Commentary

Innovation At 128,000 Feet

When I mention the name Baumgartner, you might immediately think of a certain baseball pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. That’s Madison Bumgarner, and I’m referring to Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver, daredevil and BASE jumper, who – in October of 2012 – set a world record for free fall/skydiving.

That previous statement is a gross understatement. This is what he did: He jumped at a distance of 24 miles or 39 kilometers above the Earth. (A plane flying at 35,000 feet is only 6.6 miles above the Earth. Baumgartner was in a space capsule; in a space suit and could see the curvature of the Earth!)

He become the first person in history to break the sound barrier — putting him in the same category as the Concorde. He reached an estimated speed of 834 miles per hour or 1,342 kilometers per hour, faster than a Boeing 777.

During the fall, Baumgartner went into a spin, where he was seen hurtling through space like a tumbleweed on steroids. Remarkably, he stabilized — and said this was anticipated and under control — and landed on his feet.

The “mission” itself was five years in the making and has delivered several key insights that will help scientists and aviation experts on the development of equipment, clothing, safety, tourism (!) and evacuation procedures.

Most remarkably, however, this was essentially a giant ad for Red Bull. Ordinarily, I would be on my “Life after the 30-second spot” or “Join the Conversation” soapboxes lambasting brands for elongated, protracted and procrastinated planning cycles in favor of a “real time” and dynamic shortened time to market. But not this time.

Red Bull — yet again — hasn’t just raised the bar; it pretty much obliterated the bar by demonstrating the relevance, role, purpose and utility associated with a brand that has truly invested and vested itself in “extreme” sports and lifestyle. Calling Red Bull a “content marketer” is an insult to Red Bull. Red Bull is so much more.

Not only did it almost literally bring its core positioning to life, “Red Bull gives you wings,” but ishowed an acute understanding and mastery of pure and unadulterated innovation in the form of a unique and original idea that had zero precedent and quite frankly (and again quite literally) no safety net.

I cannot even begin to fathom the thousand ways this could have gone wrong and the huge risk at stake. The “experiment” itself was already aborted once because of weather conditions, but the blunt risk here was the very real possibility and scenario of witnessing a “live death.” (All brought to you by Red Bull.)

Ironically (and it is a monstrous – pun intended – irony), a competitor in the form of Monster Energy drink is currently being sued and subsequently investigated by the FDA for a number of alleged consumption-related deaths.

Conversely, Red Bull brought a symphony to life, with more than 8 million people worldwide watching YouTube’s live stream of the free fall. Within four days, and across 1,700 related clips, it was the second-fastest video: to 50 million views in history. (The first was Kony 2012.)

I look at the average Nascar driver, tattooed or should I say littered with a cacophony of conflicting brand logos and juxtapose this with the clean and clinical branding 24 miles up in the air. I raise a can of congratulations to this marketer.

I speak to marketers worldwide, representing every major corporation. They all envy and want to be like two brands: Nike and Apple. Well, make that three brands: Red Bull joins the hall of fame trinity.

The combined jealousy and respect are palpable, and so is my advice to every Red Bull wannabee: “Just do It” or to quote Baumgartner’s mentor, retired USAF Colonel Joseph Kittinger: “Start the cameras, and our guardian angel will take care of you.”

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2 comments about "Innovation At 128,000 Feet".
  1. John Grono from GAP Research , November 6, 2012 at 8:32 a.m.
    Just on a technical note Joseph, Felix Baumgartner did not break Joe Kittinger's free fall record of 4 minutes 36 seconds set on August 16, 1960. Baumgartner's free fall was 4 minutes 19 seconds - 17 seconds short. Baumgartner certainly has made the highest jump, but not the longest free fall. As a side note I had the pleasure of particpating in a hot-air balloon challenge across Australia to celebrate our Bicentennary back in 1988. Over a BBQ and a beer at nights, Joe and his team regaled us with many stories to which my initial reaction was "that can't be true!" or "he did WHAT?!?". In fact they all were true and he is a genuinely humble man about his achievements. Words like 'brave', 'fearless', and 'intrepid' spring to mind ... but so does the expression 'just a little bit crazy in the nicest possible way'.
  2. Joseph Jaffe from Evol8tion, LLC , November 8, 2012 at 4:07 a.m.
    Thanks John for the clarification. Your "little bit crazy" makes me think of that Apple commercial, "here's to the rebels..." A good thing :)