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February 15, 2005

Excerpts: Brand Hijack - Part IV

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 8:22 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Thanks to the boycott and long FDA approval process, Red Bull became not only cool, but also a hotbed for rumors, urban myth, hype, and anticipation. The company itself wasnt prepared for the consequences; it ran out of product within the first three months of its German launch. And yet this only served to send yet another positive signal to the market: The sellout alerted the mainstream to the Red Bull craze. Soon, more and more people were jumping on the bandwagon.
As the drink spread to other markets, its reputation came with it. By 1995, London newspapers were telling tales of a financial district fueled on Red Bull, and reporting a surge of Red Bulladdled bar fights and vandalism. The company execs resisted the temptation to release widespread denials. It wasnt until a bogus medical report claiming the drink caused insanity began to spread on the internet that Red Bull released detailed evidence proving the drink was safe.
Causes insanity? Legal speed? Made from bulls testicles? Obviously, this stuff is too good to have come from the agency offices on Madison Avenue. Red Bulls early consumers have their fingerprints all over the companys public persona. But that doesnt mean the company just got lucky. Leadership had the wits to let the rumors fly, to not answer the boycotting moms with fervent denials, and to encourage its target consumers to believe what they wanted about the product. In his 2001 article Liquid Cocaine, Salonjournalist Jeff Edwards concluded, The more rumors of Red Bulls potentially dangerous, over-stimulating effects spread, the more the drink sells. He credits this cultivation of mystery with earning Red Bull its cultlike following.
Even folks at headquarters enjoy playing into the myths. I always have to fly to Pamplona to source bulls testicles, jokes Mateschitz. Those rumors have never hurt, he adds joyfully. (FYI, taurine was found in bulls initially, but it has long since been produced synthetically.)
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About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.