February 17, 2005
Excerpts: Brand Hijack - Part VII
After being told that his product was a complete failure among consumer testers, Mateschitz walked away with a key lesson: Context is everything. Small wonder the product had failed in the sterile environment of a research studio. Red Bull didnt need to be tasted; it needed to be experienced. Just as Gatorade only succeeded in taste tests when participants were dehydrated and the drink was served ice cold, Red Bull would never score high points with consumers in a lab setting. RedBull was at its core a functional drink, intended to provide a boost of energy. And so it had to be delivered within the context of fulfilling that need.
Instead of launching a mass marketing campaign or blanketing the airwaves with commercials, Mateschitz went with what traditional marketers call a below-the-line approach. Since Red Bull needs to be experienced in the right contextwherever people are tired, staying up all night, or otherwise in search of a pick-me-upcreating that context became the driving force behind all the companys marketing efforts. To this day, from product sampling to sponsoring and hosting events, Red Bull fanatically sticks to this agenda.
Heres a dramatic example from the early days, before the company had written its go-to-market guidebook. One day, the German field manager discovered a dangerous misstep: Red Bull had started offering samples of the beverage out of plastic cups in supermarkets. She abruptly quit her job. When Johannes Kastner, head of Red Bulls ad agency, heard about what had happened, he immediately reinstated her. He then codified the brands sampling guidelines to ensure that the drink was only sampled in the appropriate context. For example, Red Bull could never be served in cups, but only handed out as unopened cans so that consumers could decide when and how to drink it. Also, it could only be sampled in places where its function as a stimulant would be appreciated, such as bars and sporting events.
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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.