This past April, Red Bull tapped many a college student’s dream to travel across Europe with the “Can You Make It?” challenge. It’s a rite of passage for students to make their way across the continent on tight budgets. The twist in this campaign is that students had nothing but Red Bull and a limited-use Samsung smartphone to use as tools to reach six checkpoints in six countries in seven days.
I’m a friend of Cassie Aran, who took the challenge as a member of the Rowan University (N.J.) Trekkin Trio team. Teams were competing for a luxury vacation trip in Europe. I noticed Cassie’s pitch video on Facebook inviting people to vote for her team, and then a series of video updates she posted on the KICKINwithCASSIE YouTube channel once she and her two teammates set off on their adventure.
We connected over email last week and I asked the recent college grad about the experience of being part of a human-powered, multi-channel marketing campaign that provided just cans of Red Bull as currency and called on the team’s bartering skills and charm to get food, a place to sleep, transportation and other adventures — with support from Contiki Trip Managers, an adventure travel company.
How did you find out about the Red Bull opportunity?
I have a friend who works at Red Bull and goes to Rowan University. He posted on one of the Rowan Facebook pages to let people know about it. I messaged him seconds after he posted to ask more questions. I knew the moment I saw it that it that it was the perfect opportunity for a backpacker like myself.
What made you want to do it?
Honestly, it was the excitement of going across Europe with no phone and no money. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to do that with a safety net like Red Bull to make sure you are okay. They had a GPS tracker in our phone and if they saw we weren't moving for a while, they would call and check in that we were safe.
How did it work?
There were five different starting points. Mine was in Berlin, Germany. We had to make it through six different checkpoints before we could go to Paris. Our checkpoints brought us through Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France and Liechtenstein.
Who was on your team?
Brandon Lucante, another Rowan student and Mallory McEwen. She met Brandon when we studied abroad in Australia. I never met her when I was in Australia but she is also a backpacker and we knew she would be perfect for our team. I didn't meet her until we were filming our entry video for the competition because she lives in Montana and flew in to make the video. The competition starting point was my second time meeting her.
Did Red Bull cover your travel expenses?
Yes. Brandon went there with $8 in his bank account. He left with $8 in his bank account. The only thing people are required to pay for is visas but as an American citizen, we were not required to get one.
What kind of training did
you get from Red Bull?
We didn't get any training from Red Bull. They had a meeting to go over the rules and regulations, such as no outside cameras (just the Red Bull phone they give you to film). Overall, they just gave us a pep talk and sent us out.
What were you required to do to promote the brand?
At each checkpoint, we were given a case of Red Bull to try to trade for places to sleep, food and transportation. Just us carrying the case around and giving Red Bull to people was definitely a huge promotion for Red Bull itself. Also, all of our social media posts were attached to Red Bull. We were rewarded more points when people liked and shared our status. This was a great way for the competition to become viral for Red Bull.
remember seeing your Facebook posts on occasion. Is there a blog somewhere of everyone's work?
Here’s a link to all the teams and everything they posted throughout the competition.
What were the limitations on your travel? You had no money, right?
There were no limitations. We were allowed to try to get around in any way we could. This included hopping trains, hitchhiking, bus rides, etc. We had no money so we ether had to try to convince conductors and bus drivers to let us on for free, or we had to hop on and try to convince them to let us stay when they went to kick us off. It is incredibly hard to hop on a train without a ticket and hope you will be okay, but its just part of the competition. Many teams got kicked off in the middle of nowhere and many teams got tickets from police. We were lucky enough to find a way out of all situations. On one of the trains, we had a very mean conductor who wanted us off, and a very kind woman next to us decided to pay all three of our tickets on the spot so we could stay on and not be given a ticket by the police.
What is an occasion when you were able to use Red Bull to get yourselves out of a sticky situation on the road?
Our best Red Bull trade was when we thought we were going to be homeless in the Austrian Alps. It was absolutely freezing and, after being rejected from some hotels, we found a hotel that would let us and one other team have one room in exchange for one case of Red Bull per team. They gave us the nicest room with a 360-degree view of the Austrian Alps. It was incredible.
Did the experience change your opinion of Red
Bull? Did you drink Red Bull before this?
I did not drink Red Bull at all before this, or even throughout the competition. The last night when we had the going-away party, I decided to drink five Red Bulls to celebrate. This got me hooked. Now I do drink Red Bull on occasion.
Is there an ongoing responsibility to Red Bull? Do you have to talk about it anywhere
or create videos?
During the competition we were required to be posting and making photos and videos. But now that the competition is over, we don't have to do anything more. I am making my own Red Bull series from my footage on my YouTube channel. Here is the link to the first episode. I currently have five episodes uploaded.
Did Red Bull have a lot of signs along the way — literally? Did they have billboards giving any shout-outs to the contestants?
Nothing. There were only checkpoints where we would meet with Red Bull employees and complete a challenge for more points. For example, we had to hike up a mountain and milk a fake cow in the Austrian Alps.
How many people
There were 165 teams with three people in each team.
Was there an app?
There was an app our Red Bull phone could connect to. There was one phone per team and it couldn't make calls, text, surf the internet or use GPS. All it could do was photo, video, the Red Bull App and weather.
Red Bull did make Red Bull TV episodes during the competition on their Web site. I didn't really like how they put the episodes together as a talk show, which is what inspired me to make my own episodes to really show what the competition was truly about.
How often did you find yourself sleeping outside?
There were nights we were lucky and found a hotel room or hostel room to let us stay. Other nights we were homeless on the side of the road. One night even homeless in the pouring rain in France. IT WAS CRAZY.