Did Red Bull Shatter Sponsorship Barriers?

Red Bull was more than just along for the ride Sunday when Felix Baumgartner successfully touched down on Earth after a jump of 128,000 feet in a mere space suit. Some observers are telling us that sponsorship boundaries were also shattered along with the sound barrier, which was officially known as Red Bull Stratos. Folks watched on YouTube (more than 8 million livestreams), followed in the tweetosphere, and later caught up with the feat on blogs, traditional news broadcasts and print articles. 

Speculating that it may be “the most successful marketing campaign of all time,” Huffington Post’s Janean Chun writes that the brand “broke the traditional barriers of marketing, sponsorship and social media, skyrocketing from an energy drink known for providing a quick buzz to a big-time generator of international buzz that makes the endeavors of other marketing innovators like Apple look small by comparison.”

That is indeed quite a leap, but Leverage Agency CEO Ben Sturner tells Chun that Red Bull stands to rack up “tens of millions of dollars” in sales because the stunt “hits the brand message spot on, which is that Red Bull gives you wings.”

The feat was certainly covered in unlikely quarters, such as International Business Times, which carries video of the jump along with a story that includes all the unearthly details: “Baumgartner, 43, reached a maximum velocity of 833.8 mph after he jumped out of a balloon [sic] … 24 miles/39km above New Mexico. The Austrian took more than two hours to get up to the jump altitude, but had already broken one record before he even leapt -- the previous highest altitude for a manned balloon flight was 113,740 feet, set in 1961.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Robert Channick, who also talks with Leverage Agency’s Sturner, concludes that Red Bull’s “payoff looks to be stratospheric” following its seven-year partnership with Baumgartner to the tune of millions of dollars. 

“Sponsoring such extreme pursuits is not without its risks,” Channick points out, but Engage Marketing president Kevin Adler tells him that danger goes with the territory. “You can't play it safe and want to be viewed as a brand that lives on the edge,” he says. “There is inherent risk in being a brand that takes risks, but there's also inherent benefits in it." Indeed, Antoine Montant, who was killed while base jumping in the French Alps a year ago, is one of several Red Bull athletes who have perished over the years.

"Red Bull has a very special, direct, personal relationship with each one of its athletes and is pleased to enable them to fulfill their dreams," Red Bull spokeswoman Maddy Zeringue tells Channick in an email. "As with any sport -- despite state-of-the-art precautions -- there are inherent risks."

Andrew Warren-Payne, a research analyst at Econsultancy, put together five lessons to be gleaned from the Red Bull sponsorship:

  • Develop a story;
  • Capture as much content as possible;
  • Provide content worth sharing – and introduce your audience to something new;
  • Get contact details for further communicatons;
  • Spin-out content into the future.

“The jump was not simply good PR, but something more,” Warren-Payne writes. “It was great content marketing, something that will become increasingly important.”

Writes Teressa Iezzi in Fast Company’s “Co.Create: “Everyone from athletes to magazines like GQ and social media pundits to the Gates Foundation to hoi polloi tweeted about the event in admiring tones. When do you ever see that swath of humanity tweeting in gee whiz admiration about a branded event? Not often.”

Not ever, some might observe. 

But the payoff for the guy who actually risked his life is not likely to be as great, Kurt Badenhausen reports in Forbes. “Red Bull owns these jumps,” he writes. “How does another company come in and use Baumgartner when he is so closely identified with one brand?” 

And David Schwab, an expert on celebrities for Octagon First Call, tells Badenhausen that although Baumgartner may be an incredible daredevil, that doesn’t necessarily translate into his being a credible speaker on the banquet circuit, which “usually revolves around leadership lessons or motivating a sales staff.”

I don’t know. I think Baumgartner could convince even me that making a cold call to pitch some inanity is not the most difficult feat in this world, or even far above it.

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5 comments about "Did Red Bull Shatter Sponsorship Barriers?".
  1. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , October 16, 2012 at 9:09 a.m.
    It's a great deal for Red Bull. But I'm skeptical about how much attention this should get as a marketing method. It could have gone very, very badly for them. http://dsgarnett.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/space-jump-gets-viewers-but-does-branded-content-really-fly/
  2. Stanford Crane from NewGuard Entertainment Corp , October 16, 2012 at 9:56 a.m.
    Mr. Garnett, it is true that it could have gone wrong, much as it could have gone wrong for Hilary or Lindbergh. That is in fact, the point. I grew up riding a bicycle without a helmet, something unthinkable today in our overly protective society and we secretly crave excitement, even if it is experienced in a vicarious way. Has this happened before? Does anyone remember Evel Knievel? Good for Felix and good for Red Bull.
  3. chris yates from huddle productions , October 16, 2012 at 1:05 p.m.
    Brands need to think like content creators. Red Bull gets that and has created a cult following.
  4. Tomasito Bobadilla from BFM Movimiento LLC , October 16, 2012 at 3:23 p.m.
    What Red Bull continues to do, is showed the world how the vision of its branded athletes, are designed to be the focal point of its brand message. Red Bull image functions like no other brand in the world. It's branded Athletes are given a blueprint to bring innovation and new frontiers through the Athlete pillars, whether it's base-jumping, skateboarding, etc. It's not an event made up by agency personnel to bring brand awareness. Red Bull Stratos was a five year planned event that brought the image of the brand alive. Red Bull events are conceived within its framework of Athletes and brand marketers. The word Sponsorship does not enter into the lexicon of Red Bull thinking, as Red Bull tends to chide away from third party participation. While brands like Anheuser Busch, Coca Cola, Pepsi, just to name a few, tend to thrive on whose hot, or what's trending. Most of the time a brand will pay the amount to be the exclusive partner of such activity. That character of a brand experience is lost and water down. Example, Anheuser Busch, made in America concert, created a lot of buzz, but was it a true brand experience for AB, Jay Z or its' users. The narrative behind Fearless Felix is that having an arsenal of incredible 'human-athletes as stakeholders in the brand image lives more relevant in the consumer eyeballs than the Coca Cola Firecracker with its National TV audience. Perhaps, we can expect to see more brands get involved in developing their branded endorsements. More and more, we learned that these type of engagements bring the brand alive than any multi-function event like the Olympics.
  5. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , October 16, 2012 at 5:24 p.m.
    So here's a really interesting question: Why is anyone calling this "brand content"? Seems like Red Bull's action was merely smart sponsorship. And I commend them for their success. The reason we HAVE to consider whether it had gone wrong is that marketers need reliable methods of driving growth. Red Bull has used a heavy sponsorship approach and their safety is in the number of activities they have going at any time. But, these comments imply that other brands should be rushing to follow their lead. That's bad advice. http://dsgarnett.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/space-jump-gets-viewers-but-does-branded-content-really-fly/