Back in the 1990’s a new drink phenomenon hit the bars and nightclubs up and down the land. In between the lashings of ‘disco fizz’ (pint of lager with a dash of lemonade on top) and dry white wine spritzers for the ladies, a cheeky, little mixer was starting to create a bit of a commotion. It had a taste of pure adrenalin, you slung a shot of vodka in it and it produced a youth drinking culture overnight: the drink was Red Bull.
The era of Red Bull had begun and getting a swathe of 18 to 30 year olds hooked on to a caffeine-rich energy drink through the club scene was just one arm of a smart and successful youth marketing strategy.
Red Bull’s marketing approach, even in the early days, has widely been regarded as quirky and somewhat ‘off the wall’. A brand that relied heavily on word of mouth as a promotional cornerstone when it was first launched, Red Bull was one of the true advocates of ‘buzz marketing’. It was a perfect product for the time, offering youth the opportunity to keep active and busy with its high energy kick.
The strategy for getting Red Bull adopted by its audience but based simply on consumer needs:
So the product was in place and so was its audience; Red Bull’s excellent execution of buzz marketing brought the two together sensationally well in the initial stages. Anybody can merrily give away free samples of product in an effort to create a bit of heat under a brand; but when Red Bull did it, they created a wild fire.
Through the colleges and university around the globe, Red Bull adopted ‘student brand managers’ and brought them on to the team as part of a targeted approach to seed the product. Once they had their advocate, the student BM would be asked to organize and throw parties on campus at which cases of the energy drink would made available free of charge. Not only was this an effective piece of product placement but it was also a clever way of gathering a pile of cheap research as the student advocates would report back the youth reaction from the Red Bull parties.
In order to spread the news beyond the student walls, a similar tactic was employed which involved handing out tins of Red Bull to DJs in a select number of the coolest bars and clubs in key locations. Tins would be strategically placed on tables and shelves in these influential environments.
Word spread and now the whole Red Bull thing was going viral…big time!
Let’s face it, anything which picks up the moniker ‘speed in a can’ was always going to have a certain appeal to youngsters but this underground approach – no advertising; just limited and carefully positioned placement of the drink – saw the drink’s popularity explode. Depending on which country you were looking at, by 2004, Red Bull had between a 70% and 90% share of the energy drinks’ market in that territory. Not bad going when you consider the heavyweights which represented the competition: Coca-Cola (Mother), Pepsi (Amp), V, 180, Red Eye etc. Other performance sports drinks such as Gatorade, Powerade and Lucozade were also in the mix and after success in this category.
Red Bull didn’t come cheap either. It could charge as much as 50% more than an equivalent energy drink from the competition without blinking. More evidence of when the targeting is spot-on and your audience’s brand aspirations are met, they will happily pay the gate fee.
Having had such an excellent start in life, the next challenge for Red Bull was maintaining its youth credentials. Extreme sports and adventure was all wrapped up in this blossoming youth culture of the nineties and naughties and Red Bull aligned themselves spectacularly to benefit from these fresh opportunities.
Over the course of its short, meteoric rise, Red Bull has been associated with mountain biking, wakeboarding, skiing, surfing, skateboarding, BMX riding, skydiving, beach volleyball and sailing amongst others. Its commitment to motor sports has been key to its high-octane image supporting successful high profile teams in Formula 1, MotoGP and the World Rally Championships along the way. And just to maintain their quirky approach, their sponsorship of the Red Bull Air Race is a breath-taking example of all the brand values rolled into one.
Although Red Bull is just one, single product, it is far more than a drink.
But that’s the challenge ahead of the brand now. Whilst it can happily continue to do eccentric pieces of marketing such as the shiny, Red Bull can-shaped vans that ghost onto our high streets periodically or support peculiar sporting events like go-kart challenges, Red Bull has to continually fine tune its marketing approach to stay relevant and maintain impetus in a relatively niche market which consumers can dip in and out of as they please.
The level of investment Red Bull makes in keeping its brand name on everyone’s radar is effectively doing the same job for the whole energy drinks market.
But the brand’s limited inventory can, of course, be its strength going forward. It has, after all, just one thing to focus on; one thing to get right. As competition continues to increase in the sector – especially from the ‘white label’ corner, Red Bull is likely to be thankful for no distractions. It can divert all its energies into keeping the buzz firmly on its one, youthful product.
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