Now Red Bull Has Conquered Space, Can Brand Escape Tang’s Fate?


When there’s already a Lego parody of your extreme marketing stunt, it’s safe to say that pretty much the entire planet now knows the name Felix Baumgartner, thanks to the 43-year-old Austrian skydiver’s record-breaking supersonic freefall, 24 miles out of the sky, straight down to New Mexico. He made breaking the sound barrier look so easy that he landed on his feet, and you nearly expected him to land right into a moving convertible (or one of those Red Bull Mini Coopers), James Bond style.

His main benefactor since 1988, Red Bull, deserves to milk the historic feat for all its worth for some time. After all, the whole thing came about from Red Bull Stratos, a challenge put forth by the brand back in 2005 that nobody could beat the standing world record. Well, Baumgartner did — so what does Red Bull do now? And how much does the brand stand to reap on what one observer calls “the greatest marketing stunt of all time” after financing the research, training, team, equipment and PR?

London’s Telegraph reports that the balloon alone cost $70,000, though there’s no known dollar figure for the rest. According to one expert, the amount shelled out by Red Bull is not that much, relatively speaking, for a company that has investments in about 600 athletes around the globe.

“This is very in-line with the Red Bull brand, which has established itself as a sponsor of extreme athletes and events, and has a heritage in flying, through its partnerships with aeronautic teams as well as its popular ‘Flugtag’ (Flying Day) events, featuring human-powered vehicles,” commented IEG exec Jim Andrews, a sponsorship specialist, to Forbes. Red Bull also owns a U.S. soccer team, the New York Red Bulls. “My guess is that Red Bull’s financial commitment is not that large compared to its investment in MLS, auto racing, etc., so it’s not a big risk,” Andrews added.

Still, Red Bull would prefer you don’t call it a sponsorship. “The Red Bull Stratos mission is a professional flight test program,” said Red Bull spokesperson Maddy Zeringue to Forbes. “With the leadership of Red Bull Stratos technical project director, Art Thompson, a world-leading team of scientists, engineers and experts in aerospace medicine have been assembled to not only create the equipment necessary to help Felix reach his personal goal of freefall from 120,000 feet, but also to have the ability to deliver valuable physiological data to the scientific community.”

Indeed, Red Bull doesn’t want its brand associated with just this one extreme sports challenge, let alone space. Consider how consumers for many years associated Tang as the official drink of NASA missions, an association that NASA has distanced itself from. Now Tang is no longer a staple in U.S. kitchens but relegated to “meeting Filipino moms’ and kids’ needs” under Kraft’s new Mondelez international business unit.

The other big question — besides “Is he single?” (no) and “What’s his next daredevil stunt?” (none) — is what all the publiciity, social media buzz and press does for the value of the Red Bull brand, and how much all the brand awareness generated by the stunt will goose global sales.

While it’s too early to tell the impact on Red Bull’s financials, of course, it’s not stopping valuation guesstimates as high as £5bn ($8 billion). While much hay was made of the brand’s “gives you wings” tagline, Baumgartner didn’t drink any Red Bull before his jump for medical, safety and “are you kidding?” reasons.

As for Fearless Felix’s personal brand and other endorsement prospects, IEG’s Andrews commented to ABC News that “Everybody’s going to want him — especially in the short term,” but don’t expect other beverage-makers to sign a deal with Baumbartner. Red Bull has that category in the can.

[Red Bull can in space image: Red Bull Pro Wakeboarder Adam Errington on YouTube]