How did Red Bull become so popular?
Red Bull can

Written by Sjors Groenendaal

Marketing and sales expert sharing his knowledge so you can excel in your campaigns.

September 28, 2022

The first things that come up when thinking about Red Bull are probably: Energy drinks, extreme sports, and high-performing athletes. The way we see this energy drink comes from years of accumulated branding and a strong brand message. But just like most brands, they come from humble beginnings. At first, consumers didn’t want the drink, there was no market for it yet. But the founders were still able to convince consumers and health officials. Making Red Bull one of the most established energy drink brands.

Red Bull origins

The story of this globally known energy drink began in Thailand. In a small village in the province of Phichit around 1923, Chaleo Yoodidhya was born. Chaleo was the third of a five-child family and hailed from a financially weak background. He had little formal education and dropped out of school early and started working for his parents. His parents were of Chinese descent. They were fruit traders who also raised ducks for a living.

Growing up Chaleo began aspiring for a different kind of life. This feeling made him move to Bangkok, the lively capital of Thailand. There he started working as a pharmaceutical salesman at a chemist shop run by his big brother. He worked there until the early 1960s. Finally, he had saved enough money to start his own pharmaceutical company. He named the company TC Pharmaceuticals. Although the business never became ‘huge’, he made enough profits to have a pleasant life.

Chaleo noticed a shift in Thailand’s economy. More and more people worked in factories or distribution. A large group of Thai people worked long hours or even at night. For example, truck drivers consumed Japanese energy drinks in large quantities to stay awake during their long drives. Chaleo immediately decided to make his energy drink.

Krating Daeng

Early in the 1970s, the formula was ready. The drink made by Chaleo got the name ‘Krating Daeng’. Krating Daeng has the same logo as Red Bull. A yellow circle and two red bulls. Graphic designers rely on design elements. Why? Because they need to create smashing logos that would appeal to their customers. The Red Bull logo doesn’t deviate from this principle. The designer uses graphic elements that match the emotions of the message they want to convey.

The yellow circle takes the role of the sun. This cosmic element represents life, light, energy, and influence. It is also seen as a symbol that represents growth, strength, health, and passion. The two Red Bulls are wild gaurs. This is a bovine species native to Southeast Asia and called krating. The red bulls give hidden emotions to the brand. A bull symbolizes strength, confidence, stability, and endurance.

Most prominent is the color red in Krating Daeng’s logo. Daeng is the Thai word for ”Red”. Red evokes love, passion, and strength. Together with the yellow sun in the background, it shows an energizing feeling. Don’t be mistaken, color’s set moods.

Krating Daeng’s sun has more of a yellow color. Red Bull’s logo looks similar but has more of a gold tone in its circle. This valuable metal represents prosperity, lavishness, and success.

The first years of Kraeating Daeng

Although Krating didn’t sell that much at first, Krating beat the competition in one year. Everyone except Liptovitan D, the Japanese energy drink brand. This was only short-lived; in the years that followed, Krating became the biggest. They even knocked Liptovitan D from the throne. Was Chaleo’s recipe so much better? That depends on who you ask. What we can observe is the unconventional way of marketing for the time being. Chaleo addressed its marketing to everyday people, laborers, truck drivers, and farmers. At the time, it was more common to target the Thai elite. Coming from poverty himself, Chaleo knew all too well how it was to be a low-paid worker pulling tiresome night shifts. They could use an energy boost. You can imagine that gave Krating a broader audience to sell to.

He showed ads of workers relaxing on a wooden platform in a rural area, sipping from Krating Daeng glass bottles. Krating sponsored Muay Thai championships to create an association between Krating and Thailand’s beloved sport.

Arriving in the 1980s, Krating went international, first in Singapore and later in Hong Kong. In the meantime, an Austrian salesman was on his way to Thailand for his vacation. The man’s name was Dietrich Mateschitz. Dietrich was born in Austria on May 20, 1944. He studied marketing at the contemporary Vienna University of Economics and Business. It took him 10 years to finish his education. Rumor has it that he was in no hurry to finish his education, as he loved teaching skiing so much.

After his education, Dietrich started working at Blendax. Here he worked in the marketing department of Blendax toothpaste. On a well-deserved vacation to Thailand, he first came into contact with Krating Daeng. It cured his jet lag, Dietrich said. Impressed by this drink, he approached Chaleo.

Chaleo was skeptical at first. Yet, persuasive as Dietrich was, Chaleo decided to put their hands together. They sealed a deal to share 49 percent of the company’s share each, while the remaining 2 percent was for Chaelo’s son. Dietrich and Chaleo both put $500.000 on the table as a starting investment. In 1984 the three founded Red Bull GmbH.

Early struggles of Red Bull

Dietrich would be in charge of the new company’s operations, while Chaleo would continue to run Krating Daeng in Thailand. For three years Dietrich analyzed the market and worked on the concept and design. When he hired a research firm to test the product the result was disastrous. The trial group said the drink tasted disgusting and left a sticky feeling in their mouth. They didn’t believe in the taste, the logo, or the brand. 

The first challenge for Dietrich would be to westernize Krating Daeng and make it appealing to the Europeans. The basic formula was pretty much the same, although he carbonated it. Europeans liked the carbonated taste better than the original taste. Dietrich liked the brand’s design, but he felt the name Krating Daeng could be more generic. He chose an almost literal translation, Red Bull. They got rid of the glass medicine bottles and replaced them with eye-catching silver and blue aluminum cans.

While working on the new design Dietrich discovered they would face even more obstacles. He needed to get approval from the ministries of health in most European countries. Most of the ingredients weren’t used in Europe at the time. Finally, in 1987 Austria’s Ministry of Health granted its approval. From here on things would be getting better and better for the Bull.

Red bull’s early guerrilla strategy

Let’s get some things straight. When Red Bull launched their product they were the first energy drink in Europe. There was no market yet, they had to develop the market themselves. Sure, the situation had its benefits, but also its obstacles. On the one hand, you believe in your product, there is almost no competition and a lot of thirsty Europeans. But why would people buy a Red Bull? They are familiar with other drinks like Coca-Cola and other soft drinks. One of the key guidelines you see in Red Bull’s marketing strategy is as Dietrich said:

” We don’t bring the product to the people, we bring the people to the product”

Now, remember in 1980/1990 you couldn’t simply make an Instagram account and join the content rat race. To win the battle of attention with your competition, you have to think outside the box.

What does Dietrich mean by his statement? It comes down to the ‘audience first’ and ‘product second’ principle. If you look closely you will see that Red Bull sponsors many events where they feel their target audience is. They even organize events themselves. The attention goes to the event and the attendees, but the Red Bull brand couldn’t be overseen.

In the beginning, Red Bull handed out free samples to promote its product. Word of mouth takes care of the rest. One of the most creative campaigns I’ve ever seen was Red Bull strategically putting empty cans in trash cans and on tables at popular bars. Now imagine yourself having a few drinks at your favorite bar when you notice empty cans of a yet unfamiliar brand. This will evoke some curiosity. That’s a pretty well-thought-out guerilla marketing plan.

Today, Red Bull has 25% of the energy drink market, which roughly equals 2.89 billion dollars in sales.

The evolution of Red Bull’s target audience

Remember, when the Bull first came out, energy drinks didn’t exist in Europe. They had to create the market themselves. How did they do it? They went straight to their target audience at college parties, libraries, coffee shops, and bars. They went full guerrilla in the early days, by giving free samples in crowded places. This core ideology is still used today. Bring the people to the product. Red Bull’s target audience is most of the time identified as young persons that live on the edge or aspire to do so. Remember we are still talking about the early days of Red Bull’s marketing plan.

First, Dietrich focused on the club scene, because there is no Vodka Red Bull, without the bull. They would give their student ambassador packs to give away at parties.

Student ambassador = Popular students encouraged to promote Red Bull on campus

They throw parties at different locations, supplied by Red Bull. But Dietrich didn’t want to be only a student party mixer. With the same strategy in mind, they spread out their wings. Starting with a mountain running the contest and sponsoring Gerhard Berger an Australian F1 driver. Today, Red Bull even has E-sport teams and sponsors heaps of other branches. You can find the whole sponsor history here.

The energy drink giant brought out different tastes to target different kinds of audiences. Products like sugar free, Red bull Zero, cranberry, Lime, etc. This way they can reach different segments of society.

Red Bull’s marketing dominance

You could argue that Red Bull promotes a high-energy lifestyle more than it’s trying to sell cans of energy drinks. From its start they used the slogan ”Red Bull gives you wings”, insinuating higher performance after consumption. That idea gets backed up by the type of advertisement. Sponsoring and hosting extreme sports events and working with influencers in the field. By sharing the content and giving the influencer a platform to perform, they build their brand to the top. In this way, the energy drink cultivates a real connection with its consumers. When you promote or host successful events which people love, and your brand gets associated with it, you made it. This phenomenon creates a loyal community of adrenaline enthusiasts and athletes.

By sponsorship and ownership of sports teams, Red Bull keeps engaging with the customer more deeply. A deeper way than traditional advertising ever could. 

Even I fell victim to Red Bull’s marketing:

  • I enjoy watching extreme sports from an early age
  • Arriving at the legal drinking age, the forbidden fruit presented itself to me as Vodka Red Bull. Yummie.
  • Watching Formula 1
  • Watching PRO gamers battling it out on the streams

It amazes me how many different angles Red Bull uses to target me, and perhaps, you too.

Red bull’s marketing strategy focus

The marketing reach of Red Bull nowadays is huge. From television commercials, influencers, and sponsored events, you name it. Red Bull focuses on three significant tactics to attract its target audience:

1. Publishing high-quality content in different media outlets.

2. Large-scale attention-grabbing publicity stunts that influence almost everyone. This spreads the brand message throughout the world.

3. Sponsoring events in different categories and countries to attract a young audience.

The scale of the third point is huge. From sponsoring cliff diving events to skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, and yes, SoapBox Racing.

Ever heard about Felix Baumgartner? He was the man jumping from the stratosphere back to earth in a spacesuit. Breaking several world records including breaking the sound barriers while free falling. This brought valuable data for future space exploration.

This was one of the most viewed streams and videos of all time. In the six months immediately following Stratos, sales rose 7% to $1,6 billion in the U.S., according to research firm IRI. Proving that sometimes when you make great content you don’t need to sell your product. Sometimes you need to get out of the way, to let the content speak for itself.

User-generated digital content

The energy drink brand also applies user-generated digital content. This encourages inclusivity and allows their followers to become mini-tiny-micro-influencers. For example every three years Red Bull conducts an extreme sports/adventure photo contest. Stand-alone this might look like a simple tactic. But think about it like this: Participants want to win the competition, so they will share it within their network. If you can conduct a photo contest with your brand, it allows you to get a lot of original user-generated content. That being said, it’s much easier if you are a big brand. One of the cool ones, who everyone wants to be associated with. But still, If you never try then you never know. 

Red Bull Gaming

As with extreme sports and other athletes, Esport’s marketing expenses do not create profits on their own. The brand is known for its unorthodox sporting events. The rising popularity of Esport does not escape Red Bull, at all. All the events Red Bull organizes have one thing in common: They fit the brand image. They stick to their strategy: They bring the people to the product.

Red Bull has always been good at connecting communities. They also have a talent for then tying their product to the target audience. Early on, the brand recognized that by placing their product in a space where emotion and authenticity are paramount, they get the best results.

It’s a simple strategy that allows them to make a name for themselves by supporting athletes. The athletes are often the idols of their audience. In 2006 they sponsored their first Esport athlete, David Walsh. Many followed and the results were great. 

They offer great events with high entertainment value. These events are valuable to people inside and outside the esports community. In return for hosting these types of events, they get people who consume the content and associate the brand with it.

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