Red Bull Stratos – Good deed or good marketing?

Guest Post from David Nichols, Managing Partner and head of invention

 Red Bull has done
it again. Just when most of us were still trying to work out how to do a ‘Facebook campaign’ or viral video, they
have proved that the sky isn’t really the limit, with their sponsorship of Felix
Baumgartner’s insane freefall from the edge of space. 

Screen Shot 2012-11-05 at 08.57.31
8 million people (including me) watched it
streamed ‘live’ on YouTube.  It then
propagated out onto TV news channels, radio and newspapers the world over.  In case you have been locked in a bunker for
3 weeks and you haven’t actually seen it, you can watch the
edited video below, or click here:

There has been a
huge amount of discussion of this within the marketing press.  Nicola Kemp’s article in Brand Republic that captured what
a lot of blogs and commentators have been saying in praise Red Bull's latest PR stunt:

“Red Bull shows how brands need to go beyond
just selling their products and now have to improve the world with their

Whoah, hang on a minute. I have my doubts
about this. I believe too much is being
read into the whole thing.  As a
qualified aerospace engineer (really), I have some insight into why Red
Bull really sponsored the Stratos project: It’s cool.

It is not, I would suggest,
part of a larger move by Red Bull to improve the world through marketing, but
part of their strategy to sell more energy drinks.  And it worked really, really well.

Why did Stratos
work for Red Bull?

  • If you want to be seen as cool – do cool
    : Comedians don’t
    stand on stage telling you that they are funny. 
    They tell a joke.  Red Bull do not
    do ads showing lots of cool looking people with straplines that scream ‘We’re
    Really Cool’.  They just do cool
    stuff.  Lots of it.  Red Bull Stratos is one more in a very, very
    long line of cool things that they are actively involved with.  It’s just that it went stratospheric.
  • Take Risks: It could have gone wrong. 
    Not ‘Hoover Free Flights’ wrong, but tragically, awfully wrong.  They were prepared to put their brand on the
    line and get involved in something beyond the norm in order to get huge returns.  How many other global brands would have approved
    this kind of sponsorship?
  • Engage through Passion Points: Red Bull understand better than any brand
    I know that to engage consumers they have to get involved in what people love
    to do: we call these ‘passion points’. They don’t do promotions that revolve
    around people drinking energy drinks (‘Red Bull Truck Driver Stay-Awake-athon’
    anyone?).  They are involved in literally
    hundreds of sports, from wake-boarding to cliff diving and wing-suiting. They
    are so far advanced at this that they have found passions that we had forgotten
    we were all interested in, like space exploration. 


Improving the world
is a laudible goal, and every company should have a Social Responsibility
strategy.  But let’s not forget what we
are paid to do in marketing.  It is quite
straightforward, it is to ‘SMS’: Sell More Stuff. 

Red Bull want to be
part of things that are cool and exciting and ‘give you wings’.  Jumping out of a pod held up by a
microscopically thin Helium balloon 126,000 feet above the earth is simply a
damn cool, death defying, record-breaking, mind blowing stunt that keeps their
brand red hot and splashed all over TV and the web.  In short, it’s a lot more ‘good marketing’
than ‘good deed’.