How to wing it when accused of RedBull-shit

This week we learned a court ruled in favour of a bunch of quacks that claimed Red Bull’s 'It Gives You Wings' campaign was misleading. My original response was that I once had a Coke and it didn’t make me smile. Damn. I shoulda sued.

Red Bull does NOT give you wings

What set the internet ablaze wasn’t so much the ruling as the settlement terms. Red Bull, the world’s foremost energy drink company, is to send $10 to every person who has purchased a can of its product since 2002.

The court used the word “purchase” presumptively. In fact, no proof of purchase is required to successfully make claim to $10. Consumers must simply fill out a form or send along an email or fax. And, if they prefer, they can actually opt for $15 worth of Red Bull product. Imagine that? Even though it doesn’t make me fly, I still love Red Bull. Fire up the fax machine and let’s get a batch for free!

A friend of mine suggested that this presented a rare crisis for Red Bull, a brand that is known to be expert at marketing and for good reason. I thought he might be right. Then, as always, I started to search for ways it may actually present an opportunity.

Next comes word of an unlikely backlash. The court’s ruling capped Red Bull’s total exposure at $13 million. This means that if too many people put in for their $10, the payouts become diluted and ultimately cease to exist. Considering the media response, and the fact that Red Bull’s settlement website crashed under the weight of consumers seeking their $10, it has become clear not every Red Bull loyalist will get a payout.

We now have true Red Bull lovers who won’t be getting their $10 simply because general consumers read a story on Bing News and moved swiftly to take advantage of this pure cash giveaway.

It is this unforeseen development, the second story, which could present the brand with a bit of a crisis. If I am a loyal drinker of Red Bull and I like free cash, or better yet free Red Bull, how am I going to feel when I learn there’s no cash or free Red Bull for me? Will I feel scammed, shorted, swindled… bullied?

It’s fair to say that most beings with a frontal lobe could probably care less about the fact that drinking a Red Bull didn’t actually give them the power of flight. But the lost promise of 10 free dollars, that hits home. By no fault of its own, Red Bull now risks having loyal consumers associate bad feelings with its brand.

One option for Red Bull is to throw more wood on the fire that was started by this bizarre court ruling. The legal department would have to weigh in of course, but what if Red Bull did a campaign soliciting responses from customers on how the drink has “figuratively” given them flight? In this scenario, each consumer that submitted a story on how Red Bull has given them “flight” would be sent a coupon for $10 of free product. Red Bull could boldly cap the coupon campaign at another $13 million, knowing full well that the laws of passivity and indolence would lessen the actual financial blow.

Think of the potential. The earned media would be fantastic. Many blogs and other outlets that covered the craziness of the initial court ruling and the related cash giveaway would now write about Red Bull’s cool-ass, right-back-at-ya campaign. Also, the submissions on how Red Bull gave individuals flight, submitted via video, written essay or tweet, will be ripe for mining. The brand will likely come away with great testimonials and a few videos that they’d never be able to conceive of in a conference room. What’s more, Red Bull can benefit from a genuine opportunity to engage its consumers and transform otherwise passive individuals into brand ambassadors.

Do this Red Bull! You’re the Bradley Cooper of energy drinks, and this campaign has a swagger that’s worthy of your brand.

On a personal note, the first time I drank Red Bull it was mixed with Kettle One. I was in a bar in Aspen. My friends and I stayed up until 2am, closing the place down with such “celebs” as Carrot Top and Don Johnson. I had woken up in NYC at 6am eastern the day prior. It’s pretty safe to say that Red Bull gave me flight that memorable evening.

Rich Shea is a public relations professional based in New York City. He is also co-founder of Major League Eating, the governing body of stomach-centric sport

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