Every publisher needs a Red Bull


If you Google the story behind the Red Bull brand and the extreme success it has attained across all fronts, you will find that it reeks of non-conformal marketing applied with deft and deliberate strokes of ingenuity.

Contravening all the marketing theories and models you can ever hope to learn from leading institutions the world over, the story of how an Austrian toothpaste salesperson Dietrich Mateschitz took an inconspicuous Thai energy drink called Krating Daeng and transformed it into the phenomenon we call Red Bull today exceeds the epitome of a miracle!

The Cinderella story behind the evolution of this brand is, to me, sheer poetic strategy in motion.

This brand, in the blue and silver can, sells well more than 4.6 billion units a year and consistently tops its category on all counts.

As a product, it apparently does not do well in taste tests with many saying that it is too sweet. But with sales figures like this, one must realise by now that its huge following is not fully dependent on the content encased by metal but the “content” that is infused in the marketing of the brand.

Red Bull, we can all attest to, is all about super-charged, high-octane, extreme lifestyles.

But what has this all got to do with the business we are in?

James O’Brien, in an article entitled “How Red Bull takes Content Marketing to the Extreme,” says that “Red Bull is a publishing empire that also happens to sell a beverage.”

Red Bull Media House launched in Europe in 2007, then scaled across to Hollywood and New York City, with assets traversing print, television, feature film production, content acquisition, production, and a magazine (The Red Bulletin).

In O’Brien’s piece, he mentioned Celeste Thorson, a self-described adrenaline seeker who seems more in love with the publication than the product:

“Obviously the name does a great job of reminding you about the drink,” she said of The Red Bulletin. “But honestly, Im a bigger fan of the Bulletin and event sponsorships than the beverage. I think of Red Bull as more than just an energy drink maker. To me, its about having an energetic lifestyle.”

With brand owners like this daring to take their equity along the value chain and drive extensive followings across multiple fronts, I can’t help but think that traditional publishers can take a leaf out of this to lift their offerings beyond their current staid and fledgling business models.

If we are sincere enough to acknowledge that we are living in an age of disruption, we must also be cognisant that — in order for us to make sense of our business going forth — we need to learn not just from best practices available within our narrow scope of reference, but from the robust, all-encompassing world out there.

Innovating without excess baggage is one key to the enablement. Putting it crassly, when we spend (or, should I say, waste) time worrying how our creative cutting-edge digital ideas will cannibalise our cash-cow print stalwarts, we accord time laid out on a silver platter to our not-so-friendly digital-only competitors to move a few more notches ahead of us!

The ability to adapt is yet another. We need to continuously find out what our consumers want and need. It is hugely insufficient in this day and age to deliver content based on the scope of our journalistic specialisations.

Minimally, we must be in sync with the flood of trending conversations transparent to us across the trackable and tappable Internet-enabled world we live in. We need to be more “outside in” than “inside out.”

Greg Satell, writing for the Harvard Business Review in a piece entitled “Publishing is Not Dying,” puts this succinctly when he wrote: “Once publishers let go of the idea that they are going to make their money selling ad pages and pushing rates, it becomes clear just how profound the opportunities are.”

We must face the fact that one size does not fit all and that selling a physical ad space, be it a half-page print execution or a leaderboard on a Web site, is quickly becoming passé.

Don’t get me wrong: Advertisers are still passionate about spending A&P dollars, just not in the way we are accustomed to. And that’s why if you look deep and wide enough, you will notice major brands the world over experimenting with and setting up new-age media command centres to address their communication needs.

These facilities come decked out with war rooms, real-time social media monitoring tools, video production capabilities, “live” ROI dashboards, hot-desking partner consoles, etc.

Gone are the days where a brand sets itself up for two major brand campaigns a year, with planning periods of up to six months, accompanied by a production budget comprising millions in return for a handful of 30-second commercials.

Nearly everything today is mashed up on the fly to best leverage on key trends, happenings, and occasions.     

Some marketers call this phenomenon “always-on marketing” (AOM). Razorfish defines AOM as “data-driven, content-led experiences, delivered across channels and devices in real time.”

The State Of Always-On Marketing Study (2014) goes on to say that “an always-on approach ensures that content is not only well planned, but also continually optimised with the ability to respond to consumer interactions with brands.”

Now getting back to the title of this blog piece (“Every publisher needs a Red Bull”), I close with a whole-hearted affirmation of this headline across three facets of its interpretation.

  1. A sugar rush every now and again is good a jolt as any to lift us out of our complacencies.

  2. Seeing how Red Bull has gone from being an overly sweet taurine-infused energy beverage to an iconic lifestyle brand seems reason enough for publishers to try new and risky extensions, non-core ones inclusive, in search of untapped revenue streams.

  3. Last but certainly not least, the fact that this Austrian-born brand is now internationally recognised for its magazine, videos, events, and more attests to the acute and urgent necessity for media organisations to start acting like start-ups, constantly hacking for new ideas, experimenting every so often, testing new concepts voraciously, and “living on the edge.”

Which leaves me to leave you with the famous words of the French poet Guilliame Apollinaire, who said: “Come to the edge. We might fall. Come to the edge. Its too high! COME TO THE EDGE! And they came, and we pushed, and they flew.”

You never know – an infusion of Red Bull could give you wings!

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