IMAGES, SALES, BRANDS: HOW RED BULL USES VARIOUS DIGITAL AND SOCIAL MEDIA TECHNIQUES TO ACHIEVE ALL ITS OBJECTIVES
It isn’t as if the digital social media strategy adopted by Red Bull—the energy drink that “gives you wings”—is a trade secret. Granted, the private company has a policy that discourages employees from giving interviews. But its overall strategy is clear from its actions and their outcomes. The success it has accrued from this strategy therefore isn’t a matter of doing things differently from anyone else. It’s a function of doing them better. To begin, Red Bull distinguishes its goals for leveraging contacts. Is it hoping for more brand exposure, or is it pursuing sales increases? Depending on its focus, it adopts distinct, appealing methods that are specific and unique to each digital and social media platform. Then it implements these tactics consistently and comprehensively to increase the chances that they will be widely shared and recognized. Page 108 Name Recognition Perhaps one of the most famous Red Bull events was when Felix Baumgartner (purposefully) fell to Earth from 127,852 feet up, and broke all sorts of records. His jump was from the highest height ever achieved by a human. During the 4-minute, 20-second freefall, he also reached greater speeds—up to Mach 1.25, faster than the speed of sound—than anyone else ever has. The event was a breakthrough on various levels. Baumgartner’s pressure suit was the first version to be able to protect the human body in space but still enable maneuverability. To address the threat of ebullism (i.e., when liquid in the body evaporates due to high altitudes, causing a person’s blood to literally boil), Baumgartner and his team derived new medical techniques with widespread applications. His parachute also adopted a new “reefed” design to reduce drifting, with clear implications for airdrops of materials and supplies.68 In reporting on all these remarkable feats, Baumgartner’s name was mentioned frequently—though not as frequently as the project that sponsored his jump and all the technology that went into supporting it: the Red Bull Stratos project. Every official mention of the event included the full name, such that Red Bull Stratos often appeared as a single term. It was not just the Stratos project. It was the Red Bull Stratos project. And what a project it was, leading to the creation of not just scientific advances but also a remarkable video. That video, taken from the camera mounted on Baumgartner’s helmet, features vast, picturesque views of Earth and the sense of plummeting. Red Bull immediately made it available for people to check out at their leisure. But the real targets—the people whom Red Bull hoped would be most engaged by the video and the stunt in general—were extreme sports fanatics. These folks willingly put their bodies at risk on a regular basis to perform some cool stunt to cause their friends to marvel. For them, there may be no better stunt than having some guy fall from space. In full awareness of this appeal, Red Bull made sure that the video was prominent on its website and YouTube channel. On the day of the jump itself, approximately 8 million viewers streamed the video live and in real time. Also on that day, the number of subscribers to Red Bull’s YouTube channel increased by a remarkable 87,801. Sponsored by Red Bull, Felix Baumgartner’s jump reached speeds of Mach 1.25. ️Jay Nemeth/Zumapress/Newscom On Twitter, recognizing that 140 characters was not nearly enough to communicate the awesomeness of the stunt, it simply used hashtags and links to connect followers to the video, whether through YouTube or on a Red Bull site. Although Red Bull’s main Twitter feed did not exhibit any notable differences, the dedicated Red Bull Stratos Twitter feed prompted more than 20,000 mentions in tweets by others on that day. The Red Bull Stratos Facebook page featured several photos during and after the jump. Just one shot of a landed Baumgartner, still in his space suit and on his knees beside his reefed parachute, prompted more than 20,000 comments, more than 50,000 shares, and nearly half a million likes. The example of the Red Bull Stratos project and its attendant coverage through digital and social media suggests several things Red Bull did well. It knew its audience and its own goals, and it understood how different channels could help it attain those goals. To ensure that it appealed to the target audience, it engaged them in an exciting, never-before-tried daredevil experience. Moreover, it shared the scientific lessons learned through the project to give those who wanted it an education. But it also spent a lot of money to get Baumgartner to space and back down again. And that meant it needed to translate some of the brand awareness it developed into sales. Luckily for Red Bull, its social media strategy also has room for that effort.
Red Bull does not just send athletes to space. It also sponsors them on the pitch, in the form of the New York Red Bull MLS team, which plays in Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. In one recent game, the team’s star forward Thierry Henry scored yet another goal. Page 109Afterward, he leaned, with his right arm up against the goal post and left hand on his hip. The pose, caught on camera, almost immediately became a Twitter meme as amateur photo editors placed him against a variety of backgrounds. The team was quick to move on this social media coup. It rapidly posted the photo to its website and encouraged fans to vote for it as their favorite shot of the season. Immediately above and below the encouragement to engage with the brand also appeared links that would allow fans to purchase tickets for a full season, half season, or individual games. Beyond these fun, consumer-oriented efforts, Red Bull makes sure that it has advanced capabilities for supporting the retail vendors that sell its products. For example, all its mobile sales representatives are equipped with their own tablet computers, loaded with proprietary mobile software. Thus, on visits to retail sites and vendors, the salespeople can provide the latest inventory information. They also present detailed analytics to show vendors how best to position their coolers of Red Bull products and how to line up the cans in the display case to encourage sales.
Combining the Uses of Digital and Social Media
When you are as good at engaging and exciting people as Red Bull is, the next step might be to make digital social media your main focus. In a sense, it has transformed itself into a media company that just happens to sell energy drinks. Red Bull continues to sponsor extreme sporting events and stunts; it also has its own record label, which finds, pursues, and produces artists who make high-energy music. On the dedicated Red Bull Records YouTube channel, it highlights these artists, then pairs their output with some of its sponsored events. For example, it creates playlists for skydiving events and X-fighters, featuring not just its own artists but also other popular musicians. Furthermore, Red Bull offers a slew of applications for smartphones and tablets, including the RedBull.com app, which presents content similar to that on Facebook and Instagram, along with a customizable feed. In addition, Red Bull offers several gaming apps featuring snowboarding, biking, and car and airplane racing games, along with a “Mind Gamers” puzzle. At the same time, it provides a radio app and Red Bull TV; the Red Bull TV app can be downloaded on mobile devices or streamed directly to consumers’ televisions through Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox, or PlayStation. The various channels available through this app include not just the expected coverage of all types of extreme sports but also channels dedicated to music, festivals, and original films—one of which documents the Red Bull Stratos mission, of course.This move toward a greater focus on different media channels is well in line with Red Bull’s long-standing social media strategy. For example, it maintains a plethora of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for various events and locations, yet virtually none of them ever feature pictures of its drinks. Instead, they offer exciting in-sport shots or humorous images. Fans can—and do—comment, but Red Bull rarely responds. Its primary goal appears to be establishing an edgy, entertaining, exciting image as a lifestyle brand, which it feels confident will translate ultimately into product sales.
1. What social and mobile media tools is Red Bull using?
2. Evaluate Red Bull’s social media marketing strategy using the 4E framework.
3. How should Red Bull assess the effectiveness of these campaigns?
4. Describe how it should respond to insights gained by this assessment.
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