Under the leadership of Austrian owner Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull has embarked on epic forays into culture, racing, and even space have made the brand a global phenomenon.
With these activities, Mateschitz’s company has taken what was a localised brand, and transformed it into a global juggernaut – which has become so much more than the energy drink itself.
Sometimes, knowing when not to meddle with the magic is what makes a brand.
In this entry into our series of “brand breakdowns” – we look at Red Bull, from its beginnings in Thailand, to a world beating brand today.
The First Sip
In the 1970s, Red Bull was marketed to farmers, construction workers and truck drivers in Thailand. Krating Daeng (“Red Bull” in Thai) was a populist drink for the working man; a utilitarian solution that helped you overcome fatigue, pull a double shift, or drive all night. Soon the beverage formed a long-standing association with Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing), which gave it popularity and street cred.
The beverage contained a potent mix of sugar, caffeine and taurine and was bottled in a small medicinal brown bottle with a bright and colourful label. It became a resounding success domestically amongst it’s working class consumer base.
It was a product with clearly great potential, but seemingly waiting for its breakout moment…
Then it happened.
It started with a humdrum business trip to Thailand for Austrian, Dietrich Mateschitz. Over the course of his trip he stumbled across the drink and found that it “cured” his jet lag. At this point, he knew what had to be done. He sought a partnership with the inventor of the beverage Chaleo Yoovidhya and sound to launch a version of the drink that was slightly modified for European tastes.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In short time Red Bull evolved from a quirky local drink to a global mega-brand in what has been a masterclass in how to execute big ticket brand deployment. Equally, Red Bull’s success is a masterclass in restraint and sensitivity – with Mateschitz keeping much of what worked with “Krating Daeng” in place in the international variant.
Brand Breakdown: the trade marks
Red Bull’s logo (below) is perhaps one of the most distinct yet iconic in the food and drink sector.
Consisting of two large bulls a moment before the point of collision and a yellow circle (whether viewed as the sun, or an impending explosion) – you would find it extremely difficult to devise a logo that communicated “potential energy” better than this.
Several details in the logo further support this connotation. Then first is the symmetry in the logo – the two identical bulls preparing to clash are akin to the adage of “the unstoppable force and the immovable object”. The second is the “sun” in the background. The third is the “energy” that outlines the bulls, specifically insofar as it is the same colour as the sun in the middle. Lastly, the colours chosen, red and yellow are “hot” colours, which have many connotations that support Red Bull’s brand values.
When analysing a logo, it is important to look at what decisions were made – and what the effect would be if alternative decisions were made.
For example, what if: 1) one of the bulls was bigger than the other, or in a different post? 2) the “sun” in the background was a triangle? 3) the outline of the bulls was a black line, rather than the same colour as the “sun”, 4) the “sun” was blue and the bulls a light shade of red.
When we think about things this way, it becomes clearer how these design elements contribute to the visual communication of the logo’s meaning to the audience.
In this case we have a sense of potential energy, which, in my view, has several atomic and reactive connotations (the important moment of collision, the sun, the symmetry of the “clash”, use of energetic colours etc.)
Clearly this visual identity suits the product it is adhered to. It is not a brand promise that suggests it will make you go “faster” or be “stronger” – but rather one that gives you the sharpness to be ready at a critical moment of need. In this way, the logo (and other aspects of Red Bull’s brand communication, e.g. it’s “gives you wings” slogan, and “battery”-like can) subtly communicates that it will access a reactive energy in you – at the time when you most need it.
How has the logo been put to use?
Red Bull Walk their Talk
Aside from the masterclass that is their brand promise as communicated through their trade marks – Red Bull selectively engages in high-profile sponsorships to associate itself with boundary pushing activities.
What is perhaps most interesting about these activities is that in many of their highest profile examples – they are of sports and events which demonstrate performance on a critical moment to moment basis (where a lack of it mean failure). Examples of this include: Sponsorship of their Formula 1 team, the Red Bull Air Race event and even the Red Bull Soapbox Race. In addition to this, Red Bull own four football teams: RB Leipzig (Germany), F.C Red Bull Salzburg (Austria), New York Red Bulls (USA) and Red Bull Brasil (Brazil) – and sponsor a range of extreme sport athletes and events.
The most notable event is perhaps “Red Bull Stratos” the sponsorship of Felix Baumgartner’s high-altitude dive on the 14th of October 2012. In this instance, Baumgartner, via helium balloon, flew roughly 39km into the stratosphere in a pressure suit, before free falling back to earth with the assistance of a parachute. In the process of doing this, Baumgartner set several records, including being the first person to break the sound barrier unassisted.
Association with these sports, events and activities is not simply a case of increasing the brand’s exposure – but rather specific association with boundary pushing activities that complement their product.
Letting it Flow
It is also crucial to note that in doing all this – their product takes a “back seat” and is positioned merely as the embodiment of everything they are associated with. By this point the majority of those that encounter “Red Bull” as a brand will be well aware of the product, as such the events and sponsorship serve as a reminder of what is possible (and enabled by Red Bull).
This is interesting as being more “direct” in selling the product would likely undermine the message here – which is to let the brand’s actions do the talking. This notion is further reinforced in the sense that Red Bull do not simply sponsor many of these events and sports teams – but in fact own them. In this way, Red Bull literally fuels exceptional performance and are willing to place their own fortunes on the line in the process. If that’s not an authentic brand promise – then I do not know what is.
Whilst sports sponsorship constitutes Red Bull’s marquee activity – they do not stop there. Red Bull has broader interests which include: its own record label, recording studio, music academy, publishing group, an online radio station, and recent forays into e-gaming.
In addition to all this – Red Bull also brand at the “street level” insofar as they sponsor many amateaur skaters, surfers and other individuals who do not compete at a professional level. This has the effect of cultivating a unique brand and persona by elevating individuals in status to the coolest kid on the skatepark or beach. This holism and pedigree upholds a prestigious image which sets the brand apart from it’s competitors such as “Monster Energy”. Simply put – where people are pushing the boundaries, Red Bull makes every effort to be a part of it.
Red Bull: A Big Brand with Big Protection
It is no surprise that Red Bull are as proactive with protecting their brand, as they are in deploying it across all the activities described above.
In the UK Red Bull protect their brand through a number of trade marks, including word marks for the name “Red Bull” (across classes: 3, 5, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, ,29, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 38, 41, 42, and 43), figurative marks for the façade of the iconic can (in class 32), the colour combination marks for the blue and silver on the can (Class 32), figurative marks for their logo (in classes 25, 28, 30, 32, 33, 34, 41 and 43) and word marks for “Gives You Wings (in class 32, 33 and 43) – as well as a range of subsidiary marks protecting offshoot products. (And that’s just in the UK!)
Most controversial of these is perhaps a colour combination mark, which caused some consternation in legal circles, insofar as it would have set an overly broad precedent for a mark consisting of two colours at a certain ratio. The IPKat has a good overview of that tussle here.
Ultimately however, Red Bull’s progressive trade mark strategy gives them a solid footing when it comes to protecting the brand equity they have built up over the past 31 years – across a broad scope of business activities (and not just limited to soft drinks in Class 32!)
An iconic and instantly recognisable brand is only that when others who would take advantage are unable to do so. With Red Bull comprehensively protected across all their brand assets, across the massive scope of goods and services they have now become associated with – the company is given an empty runway to soar to even higher heights.
Red Bull: Conclusion
The story of Red Bull is one of innovation. It began with the introduction of an entirely novel product which spawned an entirely new category of product.
Since its introduction to the international market Red Bull has since gone on to evangelise events, and activities that reinforce their core brand values – capturing the imagination of the public in the process. It is a remarkable feat of “joined up thinking” and brand strategy that has elevated the beverage company to a global powerhouse.
There are very few other brands which adopt both this level of authorship around their brand – and it what makes Red Bull stand out of the category – landing the brand at 71 on the Forbes list of most valuable brands with a stated value of $9.9billion.
Not bad for a humble pick me up drink originally aimed at perking up sleepy truck drivers.