Brazilian surfing star Maya Gabeira is one of more than 600 extreme athletes who have come to the world’s attention thanks to Red Bull. Not necessarily everyone’s attention, but definitely the generation of 18-30 year-old males who aspire to livin’ on the edge.
In many respects, Red Bull supremo Dietrich Mateschitz is just one of those kids who want to watch the next Red Bull-inspired stunt and then high-five their mates, yelling “that’s totally awesome!”
It’s just that Mateschitz happens to be one of those kids in the body of a 68-year-old Austrian squillionaire. Yet we believe that he probably still high-fives his mates while yelling “Super-toll, ja?”
When he started out 25 years ago, Mateschitz wanted to sell cans of his get-go nectar to like-minded friends, who were mostly windsurfing/ski-jumping/hang-gliding adrenaline seekers with money to burn. So began Red Bull’s pursuit of excellence in the field of doing dangerous things – and looking cool while doing them.
And there’s the rub: unlike traditional sponsorships, Red Bull sought from an early stage to sell people the lifestyle that Mateschitz and his mates had enjoyed themselves, and then the product by association. In that aim it’s been a mesmerising success, because if you are a youngster who is tuned in to Red Bull’s output, you not only know all about its sportspeople but also the nightclubs, parties, people, culture and events that Red Bull taps into as well.
Sometimes they get it wrong. Taking Red Bull to the super-conservative world of NASCAR was a calamity of hitherto unseen proportions. Not only did they arrive with promises of high-rolling, high-octane thrills but also did so by plastering their logos to Toyota racecars. Toyota may make the Camry in American factories, but to the NASCAR public the idea of a ‘furren’ car with a fancy ‘furren’ soft drink telling them that they should be hanging out with ‘furren’ BMX riders was beyond the pale. WHen Red Bull announced its departure from the series in 2011, the cheers could be heard in Salzburg.
Yet, as ever, NASCAR was the exception.
Demand for Red Bull’s high jinks on both sides of the Atlantic (and the Pacific, the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean) is now so great that the Red Bull Media House has been established to feed the apparently insatiable demand for cool movies of beautiful young men and women risking life and limb for kicks. And why not? An entire generation has grown up with Red Bull-sponsored insanity as part of its lives, downloading videos of it and playing the pixellated version on its consoles.
The Red Bull Media House is a gigantic operation, spanning Austria and the USA. By bringing in the best and the brightest in the field of online content, it now manages more than 900 web domains, all pumping out action 24/7. Carefully-crafted content is available for web, social, film, tablet, print, music, and TV as well as an ever-expanding range of apps to ensure that it is at the cutting edge of whatever it is teenage boys want most.
The decision to create Red Bull Media House was justified little more than a year ago with the release of what is seen as a seminal movie for extreme sports fans: The Art of Flight. With an unheard-of budget of more than £1 million, Red Bull filmed a snowboarder doing all the most extreme things a snowboarder can do on a fabulous mountain. With its production team able to afford every high definition trick in the book, the result was a spectacular piece of cinema that has become a best-seller on iTunes and a money-spinning blockbuster in its own right, raking in tens of millions of dollars in profit.
It seems that Red Bull has achieved the impossible dream: it is making a profit from its own advertising.
Now it has an even more impossible dream on its plate: finding a means to revive the crumbling monolith of the World Rally Championship and take it back to the frenzied heights of international sporting acclaim. It needs to sprinkle its fairy-dust and make the Col de Turini cause teenagers to gasp in awe while the sweet sound of 1600cc turbo motors play through their iPhones.
It is going to take a massive, massive, MASSIVE amount of work. But if I were a sporting series ordering a drink in the last-chance saloon, I’d be very tempted to order a Red Bull.