October 18, 2012 / by Frank Strong

Twenty years ago, Reese’s Pieces took advantage of an opportunity that M&Ms declined. In doing so, they secured the marketing opportunity of a lifetime in the movie E.T. and, arguably, validated product placement as a viable tactic in the marketer’s toolkit.

This year, the Red Bull Stratos event might lead to a similar evolution in marketing.

“And now the question is,” writes author Larry Woodward in an ABC News column, “Will the tens of millions of dollars in free publicity and attention garnered by Red Bull attract other companies to move outside of traditional advertising and promotional sponsorships into the area of science and research.”

Larry has a point. Red Bull Stratos was surely enough to make even Coca-Cola’s marketing machine reach for its pencil and scribble down a few notes.

But I have a different question:  Will that sponsorship drive sales?

According to the Red Bull Statos website, Felix Baumgartner jumped from 128,000 feet – the highest skydive ever.  He reached a speed of 833 mph – that’s more than Mach 1 – and was the first human to reach such a speed without mechanical assistance. He was in freefall for four minutes and 22 seconds– and perilously unstable for a few moments.  He pulled his parachute at about 5,000 feet and completed his jump in just over nine minutes by landing on his feet. He’s earned what’s likely to be a tenured entry in the record books.

eight years in the making

Throughout the jump, Red Bull’s logo was featured prominently:  on the balloon’s capsule on the way up, on Felix’s helmet on the way down and on his canopy when he pulled his parachute for the remaining five minute glide to earth.

Did those logos pay off?

The Associated Press reports that the jump was broadcast live on more than 40 television stations and 130 digital outlets.  It also trended on Twitter in multiple locations “pushing past tweets about Justin Bieber and seven NFL football games being played at the same time.”

PilmerPR, which promoted the event for seven months leading up to the jump, says in a PRWeb release that Red Bull amassed 235,000 Twitter followers and 300 million views on YouTube during that period.

AllFacebook writes that Red Bull’s fan page earned 270,000 more likes the day of the jump.  According to USA Today, 8 million people watched the event live as  the story broke across CNN and other major outlets.

Without a doubt, these are amazing figures, but the question remains, will the event drive sales?  Did people put a little more Red Bull in their Absolut Vodka that night? Will people pick up a four pack of Red Bull next weekend, next month or next year?

I believe they will and here’s why:

1. Red Bull knows its audience.  Whether it’s insanely crazy mountain biking or F1 racing, Red Bull has a penchant for guerrilla marketing and has earned a reputation for sponsoring extreme sports.  They sponsor the sort of adventure that requires courage and is fueled by adrenaline.  While this event is quite possibly the most expensive undertaking the company has performed, they’ve got years of experience with this approach.   Historical results?  It’s hard to argue with a company has grown to greater than $3 billion in sales.

2. We’ve seen this question before.  Remember the Old Spice campaign?  People were asking the same question following that campaign:  did Old Spice drive sales?  Yes, it did.  Sales jumped by 55% in the first few months following the campaign.

3. Red Bull has interesting content for months ahead.   Content marketing is proven to drive sales – and as Econsultancy points out, there are several content marketing lessons in this campaign.  We can measure it cleanly from the origin of traffic to a website through to conversions.  Yes, you can buy Red Bull online.

Despite my convictions, there are however a myriad of other views.

  • It’s the content Red Bull is selling.  Our own Peter Shankman says that Red Bull is monetizing the content – citing its deal with The Discovery Channel. While he says he is sure sales of the drink will increase, he believes the company is more interested in earning revenue from the content.
  • Which half was wasted?  Anthony Iannarino, who pens The Sales Blog, wrote in an email, “It makes me think of the age old saw about half our marketing dollars being wasted but not knowing which half. I’ve talked to dozens of people about the event, not one has mentioned Red Bull. Literally, not a single person. I believe that this may reinforce an existing relationship with the brand, but I’m not sure it opens any new relationships – if that’s what it was designed to do.”
  • You bet sales will increase.  David Stone, an Australian marketer working for Nokia in Norway points to both the exposure and credibility the brand gained. I find David’s comment remarkable not just because he’s a marketer working for a big brand that responded to my query on Twitter, but because sales of Red Bull are reportedly banned in Norway.

How about you?  What impact will this have on sales of Red Bull?  Please sound off in the comments.


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