I drink a lot of red bull…this dietary choice along with other lifestyle habits (see Health post: How bad are all-nighters for you…really?) means that I will be pleasantly surprised if I live past 35.
How did Red Bull become such a worldwide phenomenon? How did a simple energy drink become a 7.9 billion dollar company and ranked as #74 world’s most valuable brands? (Forbes, May 2016). How did a company started in 1987 sell 5.9 billion cans in 2015?
Basically, it all starts off with this guy:
Dietrich Mateschitz…meeting this guy:
Dietrich Mateschitz was the son of primary schoolteachers who separated when he was young. It took Dietrich ten years to graduate from college (Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration) with a degree in marketing. His first marketing job was selling detergents. His second job was selling Blendax toothpaste. While selling toothpaste Dietrich found himself traveling frequently, particularly to Thailand. While in Thailand Dietrich noticed the tuk-tuk drivers were drinking something called Krating Daeng, which translates into English as Red Gaur. This syrupy tonic was meant for blue collar workers: an energy boost to get them through their long, arduous days. Dietrich tried the drink himself and saw that it helped alleviate his jet lag. He called up my man Chaleo…
Chaleo died in 2012, was a recluse, and didn’t partake in an interview for the last 30 years of his life. I tell you this to assure you that my research isn’t inadequate when I say that he was born sometime between 1922-1932 somewhere in the middle of Thailand. His parents raised ducks and traded fruit. Chaleo had little formal education and moved to Bangkok to become an antibiotics salesman. Then he quit and set up his own small pharmaceutical company, TC Pharmaceuticals in the early 1960s. Later on, after a claimed vision of “divine inspiration,” he developed the energy-boosting drink: Krating Daeng, first introduced in 1976. The logo depicts two large, red bulls charging at each other, which are not cattle, but wild gaur. Hmm, sounds familiar.
(Tangent: Chaleo’s son said he never heard the words difficult or impossible come out of this father’s mouth.)
“Hey Chaleo, this is Dietrich, the toothpaste salesman you met last week. I-”
“Who da fuck is this?”
“I like your product. I think we can-”
“I don’t have time for this. You-”
“I’ll put up 500,000 dollars for a company that I’d like to start with you. If you put up $500,000 as well, I’ll give you 51% ownership. I believe my idea can make millions. I know a lot about marketing.”
“Meet me for lunch tomorrow at the Sriracha cafe. Give me 30 minutes of your time and I’ll explain my idea.”
Red Bull GmbH (the distributor) was born. Dietrich changed the product so that it was carbonated and catered not to blue collar workers but to the western, well-off, “relative elite.” Red bull has 2x the caffeine as Coca-Cola. It self-describes its color as amber, but looks like piss. It tastes pretty good and does give an energy boost…but so what? There are many, many products, ideas, and books out there which are good but are never lifted off the ground. What lifted Red Bull off the ground?
Anti-marketing/underground marketing/guerilla marketing
I’m not sure if this concept has been adequately studied by business schools (it probably has) but here’s my own definition: “A product subtly pushes itself as a product that doesn’t need to be pushed.”
Red bull’s first market was Austria (Dietrich’s stomping grounds.) They first marketed to extreme skiing. Their idea was to give away freebies at extreme events. They didn’t want to show “how awesome the product is so you should buy it.” They wanted to give away their product to show that they were a part of the event/the sport/the people…so cool people would like it and do the marketing for them.
“Since its early days, Red Bull has positioned itself into almost every active pursuit a human being can attempt, making the beverage itself feel like more of an afterthought.” -Ethan Wolff-Mann
Remember when Red Bull sponsored the highest skydive?
I mean, just look at some of these obscure, sponsored events:
- Abt Sportsline
- Arrows F1 team from 2001 to 2002
- Audi Sport for the A4 DTM
- Batalla de los Gallos
- Cacá Bueno‘s speed record Vectra
- Carlin Motorsport Dallara-Renault
- Citroën World Rally Team (2008-2012)
- Hyundai Genesis Coupe Pikes Peak edition
- Hyundai Veloster rallycross car
Did you know that red bull even has a record company called Red Bull Records? They signed the group: Awolnation which wrote the song: Sail. They even sponsor a paper plane throwing contest called Red Bull Paper Wings.
The marketing concept is brilliant (and it had perfect timing…I think…with all the products that are pushed on us relentlessly each day). Red Bull “pushed” themselves specifically on males 18-34 who were doing extreme, cool things…then these guys began drinking red bull and the sheep followed in their footsteps.
I remember my first encounter with red bull. I was playing indoor lacrosse and my team’s goalie, a funny maniac named Tucker, chugged a red bull before the game. What’s that? An energy drink? But even before I asked the question Red Bull had penetrated my sheep psyche. Months later my best friend and I were furtively taking sips of Red bull during chorus and singing tenor like badasses. Multiply this experience by 100000.
Coincidently, look at the writer, Tucker Max, who discussed a “Tucker Max Death Mix” of vodka and Red Bull. His books have sold millions of copies. What better way to advertise Red Bull than a writer who drinks it, does crazy shit, and has wild stories?
Red Bull was able to market itself as rebellious and subversive. We’re all bombarded by at least 3000 advertisements a day…how refreshing is it to encounter a product “naturally” opposed to pushed down our throats/eyes/ears.
Red bull was able to find its way (despite denials of this objective by the company at large) as an ideal mixer for drinks (get drunk and stay awake). Just look at Red bull’s website today: (http://mywings.redbull.com/us-en/) there are two images of someone partying and someone working on a rocket in the darkness. The late-night partier and the late-night scientist…two self-proclaimed edgy-independents. Get those kind of people to use your product…game-set-match.
If you can’t tell already by this post…I’m torn up with thoughts about marketing. It’s something I’m struggling with concerning my writing. How much should I push it? How much should I let people know that I have some valuable thoughts that they might enjoy? I don’t know. There’s a part of me which says: I don’t give a shit…I’m gonna create and if you wanna come along for the ride…great. Let’s party.
But wait…there’s no doubt that as artist you have to put yourself out there. But again…how much?! You want people to find your art organically…because that’s the best way to encounter art. An artist who shouts: Look at me! Look at me! usually isn’t very good. It means they are concerned with the wrong things. An artist should be focused on their work…that’s it.
So if you’re reading this you’re most likely a friend or a distant acquaintance. I’m gonna keep pushing over the years and steadily putting myself out there…hopefully word-of-mouth does the grunt work, but who knows? Maybe I’ll remain a Krating Daeng…
In any case, I’m gonna go get another red bull out of the fridge and pull an all nighter…