We may never find out how many cans of fizzy drink it sold, but Red Bull’s Stratos success symbolises an industry in transition.
Since the latest era of globalization kicked off, there have been two accepted ways to create a global consumer brand. You advertise on TV, a lot. And you sponsor sport, preferably the sports with cross-border appeal.
Dietrich Mateschitz, the former toothpaste marketer who created Red Bull, understands this and he has done both. But he has always subverted convention and his audacious branding of Felix Baumgartner is the latest and most spectacular example of this.
“We don't bring the product to the people, we bring people to the product. We make it available and those who love our style come to us” said Mateschitz in a rare interview in 2002.
Consumer brands have always built a lifestyle around their products, but Mateschitz’s genius has been to own it rather than just borrow it, cutting out middle-men wherever he can.
That’s why at launch he rejected advertising and took his product to people, pioneering a sampling ‘blitzkreig’ at sporting and music events and persuading willing advocates to brand themselves with Red Bull cars and merchandise.
As it grew, Red Bull decided that owning sports teams was preferable to borrowing them for a while. So instead of signing sponsorship deals with Minardi or Jaguar racing teams, Red Bull bought both and has shelled out a cool $690 million to keep them going.
This approach pre-dates the internet but it is the web that has given Red Bull the greatest opportunity to own and control its message.
By broadcasting live to eight million on YouTube and relying on PR, word-of-mouth and social media to drive views, the Baumgartner stunt subverts the conventional approach to marketing. Consider, for instance, that major media agencies will have made not a single cent from one of the biggest marketing campaigns of the year.
For a company that has used the internet to such great effect, Red Bull is notably opaque and we will never know exactly how much Stratos cost, or how many cans of Red Bull it sold. But its sheer ubiquity will challenge all brands with global ambitions to re-think their approach.
Mark Lowe is a founding partner at Third City. Follow him on Twitter @markrlowe