Red Bull’s early marketing and positioning

In this part of my Digital Writing Month challenge, I will take a look into Red Bull’s early marketing and positioning and how this helped them to become the iconic lifestyle brand they are today. Red Bull have become incredibly successful since launching 25 years ago, creating their own gap in the market and even with the continuing growth of competitors, still managing to position themselves as market leaders. It’s safe to say Red Bull are to energy drinks, what Coke is to cola and fizzy drinks.

Before I begin could I please point out I do not work with Red Bull, so please don’t email me asking for sponsorship as I cannot help. I would suggest asking Red Bull here.

When first positioning the Red Bull brand, they stated “we do not market the product to the consumer, we let the consumer discover the product first and then the brand with all its image components.” The following post will look to cover the tactics Red Bull used to do so and the success of these tactics.

The student market

When Red Bull first launched, they were the first of their kind. They had no competitors – there was no Monster, Relentless or Rockstar – there was no market for them; they made it all on their own and with that, they also had to create their own way of generating a need and a want for their product. People had gone all this time without Red Bull, why would they use them now? When energy took a dive, people knew they had Coke or coffee to rely on. Red Bull were challenging years of “caffeine addiction” and loyal Coke, Starbucks and other coffee brand fans. How could they turn them away from this and onto their product? The answer: elite status.

Feedback from initial taste tests were very negative from testers, however, Red Bull founder Mateschitz, was convinced that after honing the flavour, Red Bull would be a huge selling hit with youth groups. He guessed (and correctly so as it turned out) that some party and club goers wanted to dance all night, (without the aid of illegal drugs) and that popular bars and clubs would become even more popular once consumers realised the potential of Red Bull as a mixer with Vodka.

Red Bull’s early marketing and positioning were based on careful and considered tactics, which would help to raise the profile of Red Bull, thus, generating a need for their product. Mateschitz, Red Bull’s founder, deliberately restricted supply of Red Bull and refused to use main stream advertising methods. To begin with, Red Bull recruited a number of “cool” students, who acted as “consumer educators” for the brand. Their job was to take cases of Red Bull to certain parties, to generate buzz and interest in the product. Red Bull also hoped that targeting students would be beneficial, not just in the short term but in the long term too, as they aged:

“The kids that are 18 or 19 years old and drink Red Bull in a night club have years of use ahead of them. These same people will use it in the future as a sporting drink, or for driving, or as a conference drink because business meetings are always tiring.”

This worked greatly in Red Bull’s favour for several reasons:

1. It didn’t require people handing over their hard earned cash for a product they’d never tried before (and may not even like) and a product which, up until this point, they’d never had a need for before.
2. It was more genuine and credible to have people of their own age and from their own “scene” turning up with cases of the drink to try, rather than placing a number of sampling tents around random locations. The whole tactic was believable and seemed natural to the party goers Red Bull wanted to target.
3. It gave people a great opportunity to use Red Bull as a mixer, not just a stand alone energy drink, which in turn created it’s own market and need for the product. This was also beneficial for the brand because when first trying to stock the product, bars refused to stock the drink, seeing it as a health related product, rather than a mixer.

Placing their product at the “right” parties and by having the drink seen with the “right” people was vital to the success of Red Bull. Party goers spread the word of Red Bull quickly and cheaply through word of mouth. It also pushed a cool vibe onto the drink, leaving those with a “less cool” status, desperate to try the drink, so they too could share some of that popularity – the points behind this theory will be discussed in further detail later in this post.

This marketing tactic quickly paid off for Red Bull, as young ‘party goers’ soon grew attached to Red Bull’s product and by the time Red Bull launched in Germany in the early 1990′s, it sold out within days due to popular demand.

Celebrity status

After the success of their party placement, Red Bull set their sights higher, focusing on an even more elite status – celebrity endorsement.

Red Bull carefully and selectively chose a number of high profile celebrities, who they wanted their drink to be seen with and associated with. Red Bull placed cans of their product at competitions, in limos before award shows and at exclusive after parties. The result was the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Demi Moore, were all seen out and about drinking Red Bull as a part of their daily or nightly lifestyle, which in turn was then featured in all the photos snapped by the paparazzi.

The outcome of this marketing, was that they managed to place themselves as a brand associated with a lifestyle like no other, lives less ordinary. Seen only with those of the highest elite status, away from office desk jobs. Red Bull was a product associated with luxury, but without the luxury price tag. It became an energy drink that was only consumed by those that had a worthy lifestyle to reflect it. If you didn’t have that lifestyle, Red Bull would certainly help to achieve that.

Red Bull's early markting and positioning celebrities


The use of popular students and celebrity endorsements to raise Red Bull’s profile can be linked towards Elaboration Likelihood (EL) Model, which is a theory that focuses on changing attitudes, through persuasion. This is done via two ways:

1. The Peripheral Route, (which we’ll be focusing on for this section).
2. The Central Route.

The Peripheral Route starts from certain affective cues or a need for social conformity. Consumer goods advertising mostly associates products with symbols that exemplify values, such as achievement, high status or power – this is the route most consumers go down when faced with consumer goods advertising, product placement or advertising.

For example: Red Bull getting an actress like Demi Moore, who carries connotations of sex appeal, class and high status, to be seen with their product, in turn brings these connotations over to Red Bull’s products. Consumers associate the values she holds, over to Red Bull’s products, meaning that by using the product, the consumer will have feelings of class, sex appeal and high status, because they’re using the same product that Demi Moore uses.

Again, I do not work with Red Bull, so please don’t email me asking for sponsorship as I cannot help.Trying emailing Red Bull here.

Red Bull’s early marketing and positioning images found here: 1, 2, 3

Red Bull cans image found here