Red Bull’s Crash Landing

Bad publicity is better than no publicity: Don’t care what they say about us as long as they spell our name right

On The Town | Michael R. Weingartner | February 2010

Ueli Gegenschatz, a Swiss base jumper sponsored by Red Bull, died on Nov. 11 jumping off the 88 meter high Oerlikon Tower in Zurich. He was taking part in a promotion movie for Red Bull and was caught by a gust of wind causing him to lose control over his parachute and collide with the building and finally the concrete. He died days later from severe injuries.

This was the second deadly base-jumping accident for Red Bull this year. In August, American Eli Thompson crashed jumping in a wing suit out of a helicopter, while being filmed for a promotion of film. There has been a public outcry in Switzerland criticizing Red Bull for its actions.

Red Bull did not immediately announce the tragedy but sent a letter to Gegenschatz’s family explaining their actions and in turn the family offered thanks for having supported their relative over such a long time.

The world-wide energy drink, selling roughly 3.5 billion cans per year, has been strongly criticized for its marketing concept of extreme sport sponsorship. Red Bull’s revenue last year amounted to over € 3.3 billion and its marketing budget alone amounted to almost € 900 million. At the start, the firm was focused on sponsoring extreme sports such as Base jumping, Moto-X, freestyle snowboarding, and many other extreme sports. In recent years the global conglomerate diversified their marketing concept to football, ice hockey and Formula 1,making their line-up that much stronger.

Performing an extreme sport bears a risk, and the risk grows to larger proportions as one continues their passion. The risks are calculated, as every person doing such activities knows what they are playing with, fire. However, variables such as wind will always exist, which can never be completely eliminated.

The Austrian company was one of the first ones to sponsor such sports, finding a niche market opportunity. This involves a risk regarding the ethical understanding the company has, and on the other hand it creates a high media response due to the fact that live coverage of such events on TV is exciting and causes the targeted and interested audience to be glued to the television.

Red Bull provides professionals with a platform to be able to do what they do and make sure they have a better chance of becoming successful. Moreover, safety is of the utmost importance and providing capital to the athletes ensures they have the best equipment, reducing risks and increasing safety.

Today’s world of modern marketing and public relations has shifted away from simple advertising products by the company but it means gaining airtime in the media. However, due to the fact that today’s society is so overwhelmed with media content offered, it becomes harder to be noticed by simple and plain advertising campaigns.

With its current marketing strategy Red Bull is trying to emphasize that it is a rather young company whose main product is an energy drink. Given the fact that the energy drink is mostly aimed at a younger audience the overall marketing concept aligns with the idea of gaining attention from the younger generations. The ideal way of doing so, they decided would be supporting extreme sport events.

In doing so, Red Bull has become very successful over the past decade and has managed to host events worldwide, reaching an enormous amount of audience and media coverage.

However, as risks in these sports are not to be totally eliminated, bad publicity is unavoidable. A s the saying goes: "bad news is good news."

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    the vienna review February 2010