Storytelling for Branding, the Red Bull Way

One of the questions I get asked more often (by Marketing and advertising pros, most of the time) is “Who, in your opinion, is using Storytelling to it’s full extent in their Marketing strategy?”
And although I know there are other brands doing cool stuff, I must admit I have a flaw for Red Bull. And this is why.

In my last year at school in Holland, I had made up my mind to spend (at least!) a year abroad before starting University. I had been skiing in Austria and thought that would be a good place to start. I got a job at a restaurant, working shifts. That was ok, but I was young and wanted to party, too. My Austrian friends introduced me to this local drink wrapped in blue and silver cans. They told me it had all sorts of secret ingredients that would allow me to go dancing in Italy on a Wednesday night and be up and ready to serve coffee n Austria on a Thursday morning. I won’t go into details here, but I can tell you that during the summer of 1992 Red Bull became an unmissable part of my breakfast routine. (I should add here that I never particularly liked the taste. It always reminded me of gummy bears somehow. And liquifying little animals seemed cruel, somehow. But it worked, it gave me wings. And I became a fan).

Nearly 20 years later, this local Austrian brand has conquered the world. Wikipedia will tell you they have done so “using an aggressive Marketing strategy”. Let’s say they’re right. But let’s see, what did and does their strategy really consist of? For almost two decades, their advertising campaigns were different versions of one idea: “Red Bull Gives you Wings”, and displayed the same cartoon style:

Red Bull – Confession

Today, they also use clips from the many extreme athletes they sponsor. A part from that, they have filled our cities with their blue and silver cars with huge size cans on top:

Plus, and here’s the thing: they have always been very active in sponsorship. Back in 1992, they mainly sponsored typically Austrian winter sports like snowboarding, whereas today, projects range from adventure sports and athletics, to aerial and motor sports. And, as I learned yesterday while watching Spanish national TV, they also have a true Music Academy.

What is my point here? Red Bull, before asking themselves “what story they should tell the world”, they have taken action. Today, they have many stories to share with the world, and all are based on the one thing they actually DO, which is helping people to live their lives fully (being it a waitress who loves dancing, an extreme snowboarder who wants to go for the most remote mountain, or a musician who dares to go beyond the known in music history).

Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull’s CEO, who one day, sitting at a bar in Asia, stated that “there was no market for energy drinks in Europe, but he would create one“, today, rules the world from his office in the tiny village of Fuschl am See. I still don’t like ground gummy bears, but I do admire coherent, transparent and action orientated people like Mr. Mateschitz. Therefore, I honestly think he is one of the few to use Storytelling to it’s full extent in their Marketing strategy.

He embodies the Screenwriter’s principle “Show, don’t tell”. Or, wrapping it up Snijders’ style: “First, act upon your values, then shape the stories you tell about what you do.”

12 thoughts on “Storytelling for Branding, the Red Bull Way

  1. Juanjo! Thanks for your visit!
    I knew yours would be a good question! One that needs a separate post as a response. And bullet points, right? 😉
    Nevertheless, I think I can sum it up in a single phrase: “Red Bull are who they say they are”. How’s that for an answer?

  2. Nacho! Exactly! This is not about consuming anymore, this is all about connecting, about sharing (values, ideas, hopes and fears). This is about living in the same universe (trust me, not all of us do 😉

  3. just to make the point on a powerful story of brand ambassadors with a contagious passion

    PLease notife that they do not drink race bull (No product placement) ; the brand is the facilitator, the one that gives them wings ant take the sportsmen to its peak performence. Smart!

  4. Not only in Story-Telling; In my opinion they (RedBull) are doing an awesome job in Branded Content ,in the way hey have succed in merging the values of the brand with the user experience and the message, embedded in action packed experiences ( videos / films / Contents ; Which takes us to the territory of Trans-media storytelling , as their message goes from sponsored events, to YouTube, to BTL, to pr, to games, in a consistent -and highly efficient- fashion.

  5. Hi Brian,
    Back at my desk, I had a look at your site and think I understand where that came from now. Are we talking context? Transmedia, even? Then we agree. Would love to hear more about your work.
    BTW (Slightly jealous to know you have toured with the Sex Pistols and The Clash)

  6. Hello Brian,
    Thanks for your visit. I don’t think Red Bull has a storytelling engagement strategy at all. What I said is they are coherent in their actions and their content is basically the narrative of what they actually do as a company and sponsor. I am guessing your in the distribution business (can’t see your flash site on my iPhone) and you will know a lot more about that part than I do. Great challenges ahead, I imagine.

  7. i wasn’t aware that red bull even had a storytelling brand engagement strategy. what good is a great idea & the strategy behind it if it’s not properly distributed? content is still king, but the way you put it out there—-and where—-is the new creative strategy worth thinking about.

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