Red Bull’s marketing is one of my favorite case studies from Think Like a Rock Star. In the book I call them this generation’s Nike, and they really are. What separates Red Bull from most brands is its customer-centric marketing. Everything about the brand’s content, marketing and communication efforts is about its customers and what’s important to them. The product itself is secondary to the activities that the customer engages in, and cherishes.
First. watch this Red Bull video:
There’s a couple of things you need to know about that video:
1 – It’s a broadcast commercial.
2 – It currently has over 3 million views on YouTube.
But notice something else; you don’t see the actual Red Bull energy drink until the final 4 seconds of the commercial. You don’t see any of these amazing athletes drinking it, or any reference to it at all. You do see the Red Bull logo a few times, but the commercial is clearly promoting these amazing athletes and their skills.
The product has become secondary to the activities that Red Bull’s customers enjoy.
Red Bull understands that its customers are young and active. The brand is targeting the younger end of the highly desirable 18-34 demographic, and they understand that customers in this age range are extremely savvy when it comes to advertising. So instead of trying to market its product to these customers (which would be a turnoff to them), Red Bull focuses its content on the activities they love.
Red Bull is a Giant on YouTube
In fact, Red Bull does a fabulous job of re-purposing (or as my friend Ann would say ‘re-imaging’) its content. Red Bull creates long-form content and videos chronicling how these amazing athletes prepare to engage in their activities. This is for the hardcore extreme sports fans that want to learn more about these athletes and how they train for and perform these amazing jumps, stunts and tricks.
Then Red Bull takes the actual footage from the event and shows it by itself, and also works it into its commercials as well. Red Bull got a ton of publicity from Felix Baumgartner’s ‘freefall from space’. The brand divided footage from that amazing event into a highlight video that currently has almost 36 MILLION views. Additionally it posted videos from test jumps Baumgartner made, and of course his successful space freefall closes out the broadcast commercial above.
We’ve got your Facebook engagement right here!
With over 40 Million ‘fans’ on Facebook, Red Bull is one of the most popular brands on the world’s largest social networking site. And consistent with the content it creates on other online channel, the product itself is almost never promoted or even mentioned. Instead, the focus is on the athletes and the amazing feats they are engaging in. Most of the content is delivered via stunning visuals with text to describe what’s happening. But the brand is promoting the activities and athletes directly, and the brand itself very indirectly.
Last year Facebook did a study into how its most popular brands drive engagement via its Pages. Specifically, Facebook found that brands create three types of content on its brand pages:
Messages about the product or service
- Travel brand example: Our new resort just opened! Book your trip today.
Messages related to the brand
- Travel brand example: I decided to go on my first cruise because______.
Messages unrelated to the brand
- Travel brand example: Hang in there everybody. Monday will be over before we know it!
Of these three, updates related to the brand but not about the brand were the only type of updates that “were the sole universally significant predictor of all types of engagement.” Those three types of engagement are Likes, Shares and Comments.
This is the exact type of content that Red Bull nails on all its social media channels, but especially on Facebook. In fact Facebook clarified in the study that if a brand’s goal was to generate Shares that the brand should “Use photos, photos albums and videos”.
Sponsor the Love
In 2011 when I was writing Think Like a Rock Star, I stopped by the Brains on Fire (more on them tomorrow) HQ to talk to Greg Cordell about how brands can create fans. One of the things he suggested was ‘sponsor the love’. Find the things that your customers love, and help enable those activities. For example, Brains on Fire works with client Fiskars to help the brand execute crafting and scrapbooking events, because these are the activities that its Fiskateers are passionate about.
Red Bull does the same thing with extreme sports. The brand has long been heavily invested in extreme sports, helping to fund the events themselves, then later funding teams for major events such as ESPN’s X-Games. Red Bull has even been a sponsor in NASCAR for several years.
These sponsorships communicate to its customers that Red Bull loves these events as much as they do. Which gives its customers another reason to love the brand itself.
Telling a Compelling Story and Making the Customer the Hero
Red Bull’s marketing is all about telling a story. It’s about personal achievement, about pushing the envelope and going farther than you thought you could. These ideals speak to the heart of extreme sports and these special and fearless athletes.
Yet what makes this marketing so compelling is that Red Bull is telling a story where the customer is the hero. The content is positioned so that the customer sees these athletes performing these amazing activities yet feels inspired to push themselves to go farther.
Consider the final line of Red Bull’s broadcast commercials:
“If you believe in it, then anything is possible.”
“The only limit, is the one you set yourself.”
“You can dream about it, or you can go out and make it happen.”
The content inspires you to do more and to accomplish more than you thought you could.
Yet the secret is, Red Bull isn’t selling an energy drink, it’s selling what happens after you drink it.