‘Brands as publishers’ is a concept that many marketers see as fruitless. But one brand that has certainly seen success from its own media is Red Bull.
Red Bull has become almost as synonymous with sports, music and stunts, as it has with energy drinks.
The brand has been taking over the world with a mixture of sports team ownership, sponsorships and partnerships fostered through its globally distributed multi-platform media company, Red Bull Media House.
Back in 2014, then Red Bull Media House managing director Werner Brell explained, “what we do always has to come with some form of paycheck, whether advertising, licensing or a coproduction deal”. In other words, Red Bull’s Media House effectively subsidises some of its own branding and advertising (or vice versa, however you want to think about it).
Red Bull Media House focuses on sports, culture and lifestyle content across TV, digital, audio, and print and produces and licenses a broad selection of global live events, compelling and inspirational local storytelling with original short and long-form programming – in addition to feature films from around the world.
Powered by its media house and its ownership of sports teams and events, Red Bull has been able to blurred the boundaries between entertainment and marketing.
Red Bull distributes a lot of its content through social media and this is the focal point of this article; to look at what tactics and strategies the energy drinks brand uses to keep its audience’s thirst for high-octane content quenched.
Breadth of content
Red Bull’s remit extends beyond sports and into music, culture and lifestyle and this range of interests creates broad appeal in its target market.
Red Bull has a number of social media accounts spanning its owned sports teams (e.g. Aston Martin Red Bull Racing), sports in which it has partnered with athletes (e.g. Red Bull Snowboarding or Surfing) and its music accounts (e.g. Red Bull Music Academy, which was shuttered last year).
Taking the brand’s Formula 1 team as an example – outside of the brand’s main social accounts, the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing social accounts are amongst its most heavily engaged, with millions of followers across the major social platforms, and a lot of follower engagement. This is particularly prevalent on Twitter, where F1 enthusiasts can spark discussion or join in on conversations with the brand.
The same could be argued about Red Bull’s Music Academy, a platform that spread across radio, print and digital, and was run with emerging artists and fans in mind. As Ed Gillett writes for The Quietus:
“In this, RBMA came closer than most to realising the best of what a brand-funded music platform could achieve. It’s clear that its staff and contributors cared deeply about the creative cultures fostered within it; light-touch branding, and funding divorced from click rates or advertising imperatives, enabled that culture to exist as an end in itself, rather than being circumscribed by an immediate need to sell energy drinks.”
In the world of football, RB Leipzig is Red Bull’s 11-year-old football team that, though it faced some backlash on its introduction into German Football, exemplifies Red Bull’s willingness to push the boundaries of what a brand is capable of, and the kinds of content it can produce.
— RB Leipzig (@DieRotenBullen) February 17, 2020
Red Bull social content is also driven by its partnerships with athletes. Exclusive YouTube series like ‘Who is JOB?’ (which follows professional surfer James O’Brien) are effective tools for giving followers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into an athlete’s life, using both the brand and the athletes’ popularity to target specific audience segments, in a way that feels authentic.
The unfiltered and raw nature of some its docuseries helps Red Bull show off its athletes in a way even traditional sports brands can’t and further demonstrates the lengths and risks they are will to take to produce content.
Interestingly, Red Bull states that it doesn’t accept applications from people looking for sponsorship, indicating the brand is selective with the athletes that it works with and the content it wants to produce collaboratively and this self-awareness extends to Red Bull’s use of technology too.
Speaking with FIPP, Red Bull Media House’s CEO for TV, publishing and operation commented that Red Bull Media House “is well aware that they need to push the boundaries of technology to continue to deliver with innovative ideas and platform experiments,” – a stance that shows a brand that knows its content delivery has to be dynamic to remain successful.
Video is everything
The main thing you notice from Red Bull’s approach to social content is its reliance on video. Pretty much every post on its various social accounts is a video.
Red Bull’s main YouTube channel boasts over 9 million subscribers, with a further 3.9 million across its smaller channels. You can find mini-series, short documentaries, longer-form video content and livestreamed events across motorsports, surfing, music, gaming and snow sports.
On Instagram, Red Bull shares similar content but in a much shorter form, coming up with creative ways to repurpose content.
Of course, Red Bull’s most famous video was its world record ‘Space Jump’ with Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner back in 2012. The event was livestreamed on YouTube and drew over 2.6 million social media mentions on the day.
It can be argued Red Bull and Felix’s Space Jump paved the way for brand livestreaming activations like Nike’s Breaking 2 which saw the sports brand follow Eliud Kipchoge’s attempts to break the two-hour marathon barrier.
Red Bull’s use of perspective in video is another clever way the brand brings its sponsored events to life, this time via its partnership with GoPro, which began in 2016.
Using GoPro, the brand has experimented with point-of-view videos, 360-degree photos and higher quality close-ups of the action on its social channels; diversifying the type of content consumers expect and giving fans a front row seat in the action.
Red Bull’s Air Race, Soap Box Race and Rampage are amongst the brand’s marquee sponsored events – attracting spectators to its online live-stream or post-event content – and are great places to look for Red Bull’s use of video.
Product (or lack of)
Though Red Bull still does traditional advertising such as TV spots for its energy drinks and humorous print ads, Red Bull does very little product marketing on its profiles. You’ll see the occasional can of its famous energy drink (see below), but you’ll never see a post selling it explicitly, or its benefits and taste.
The brand opts to place its distinctive logo and brand colours everywhere from its athletes’ attire, props and equipment, to the vehicles used for its numerous races on land, air and sea. Red Bull obviously sees the bigger picture in pushing its brand codes without needing to include a can of soda.
Take Red Bull’s Organics drink, as an example. Launched in 2018, to provide its consumers a “100% natural and organically certified” soft drink, you’ll have a hard time finding Organics on any official social media accounts.
This would be surprising for most other FMCG brands, that use social media as a vehicle to drive interest and sales of its brand-new products.
Red Bull Media Network’s CEO Gerrit Meier perfectly describes the brand by saying “We don’t believe in traditional marketing; we don’t do big television commercials, we’ve never done that… we believe that we can activate through events and great content, and that’s where we’d rather spend our money. So doing that and having brand relevance absolutely still drives the core business. But we also now do a lot of things where you’re like, ‘wow, that has nothing to do with the brand’, but it still really makes good content.”
Red Bull isn’t like most other FMCG brands and the lack of social media presence for a new product shouldn’t come as a surprise. The brand appears to be opposed to using social media as a transactional channel, instead using the reach of social to communicate its ethos and great content that keeps the brand famous.