Red Bull: The drink that gives you wings
“The nuanced story of Red Bull is very attractive to anyone passionate about marketing.”
It’s very easy to identify. Few don’t know the brand or haven’t tasted it, and many are curious to fly with the “wings” that Red Bull gives you.
The popular Austrian energy drink brand stands out for being known more for promoting a lifestyle associated with extreme sports and adrenaline, than for the product itself.
Created in 1984, Red Bull is a lightly carbonated soft drink, with a high caffeine content, containing generous amounts of herbs, vitamin B complex, taurine, glucuronolactone (a carbohydrate), sucrose and glucose. Its founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, based the drink on Krating Daeng, a popular tonic that he discovered in Thailand, and that was sold at gas stations to help drivers stay awake at the wheel.
The corporate literature tells that it was then that the positioning of the product was defined, “Red Bull vitalizes body and mind,” and its unmistakeable slogan “Red Bull gives you wings!” The product was launched in 1987 in Austria, despite the majority of experts predicting its failure.
Associated since its beginnings with sports and other major events, especially targeted at young audiences, Red Bull has managed to position itself as a modern and fashionable drink, despite having been founded 35 years ago.
Red Bull is a case study in business schools. It is both interesting and incredible for many reasons, among them the merit of having created a new category.
Hand in hand with this fact, and as a pioneer in a market that generates scandalous sales figures, Red Bull is a giant with an extravagant business model, but that undoubtedly has to be recognized for achieving so much brand success in such a relatively short time.
It has the peculiarity of investing close to 25% of its revenue in high-impact advertising, which in turn generates significant mention in the media, or what is known as free press, with which it can be said that anything Red Bull does in terms of publicity has a multiplier effect.
By 2008, it was already present in 148 countries. Its turnover had increased by 7.9% year-on-year to reach 3.323 billion euros, while the number of cans sold grew worldwide by more than 13.2% to reach 4.016 billion.
This is the result of having invested tremendous sums in branding activities, an investment that represents 25% of its turnover, in activities like freeskiing, paragliding, motorcycling, windsurfing, snowboarding, jumping, trail biking, Formula One… although the firm also invests large sums in culture, as is the case of the Red Bull Music Academy.
The great success of Dietrich Mateschitz was to call his Asian beverage an “energy drink.” Coincidentally or not, this was the first energy drink. And his second great move was to reinvest all his profits into branding.
However, Red Bull has been caught up in controversy due to the fear, interested or not, that it is harmful to health. In fact, the drink was banned in France for 12 years due to the concern of health authorities regarding the unknown effects of taurine, a banned substance in several countries.
The French government was forced to back down despite its reservations, mainly due to European Union rules that establish that any product made or sold in other countries of the bloc cannot be banned unless a health risk is proven.
Nonetheless, the Austrian manufacturer decided to include health warnings on its cans regarding its high caffeine content, recommending moderate consumption, and noting it is not recommended for pregnant women or children.
Red Bull has achieved what many other companies are attempting: to unite a powerful brand with a powerful benefit that the consumer can appreciate instantly, thus guaranteeing customer loyalty.
More than 100 brands have attempted to steal its market, but none has managed to dethrone it. In Austria, an average of nine cans per person is consumed every year. In Spain? Two cans per person, double that of the US, where the energy drinks market grows by over 10% per year. A similar trend is observed in Japan. However, Red Bull still has a long way to go, even though it remains the leader in its field in the over 160 countries where it is sold.