There are few companies—and almost no “traditional” advertisers—that have the kind of holistic approach to brand experience that ensures every expression, from product to corporate culture to communications, is part of a master creative vision. For these companies, marketing is not a department; it’s a genetic part of the brand itself. But Red Bull has taken the brand rigor that made it a global beverage titan and done something vanishingly rare. With an unceasing, and meticulously produced and managed stream of high end action sports- and youth culture-oriented content that spans web, social, film, tablet, print, music, and TV, the giver of wings has become what every brand wants to be these days—a media company in full.
Post digital revolution, brands have woken up to the fact that their information and entertainment outputs can and should go beyond the paid, interruption-based model known as advertising. Several brands have made moves into content—from one-off blockbusters like Burger King Games, to ongoing platforms like American Express’ "Open Forum." And many more pay lip service to the notion that every brand expression is media. But it’s hard to think of a company that’s taken that mandate so literally, that has made content part of its core mandate. Through its stand-alone content arm, Red Bull Media House, the company that created a beverage category is now pioneering the new role of brand as media company.
Read about Red Bull’s approach to media in Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies feature. Here, in a rare interview, Red Bull founder and CEO Dietrich Mateschitz gives his take on Red Bull as media player and brand.
Co.Create: Where did the original vision come from—that is, the vision that marketing was an integral part of the brand. You had worked in marketing before, but what philosophy or what lessons informed the way you built the Red Bull brand?
Mateschitz: This is similar to the question “What was first, the chicken or the egg.” When launching a product called an Energy Drink and named Red Bull, a product that stimulates body and mind, it is a short step to the roots where Red Bull came from. We have been doing this for 20 years—now it’s called adventure sports, extreme sports, and outdoor sports. Most of the national Austrian champions in those days were personal friends of mine and we spent all our leisure time mountain biking, windsurfing, snowboarding etc. From the first year onwards, we also started sampling our product with our Red Bull Minis, launched our advertising campaign with our cartoons, and created our first event Red Bull Flugtag.
Was producing content a part of that from the start?
Yes, we were producing content from the start but one has to admit that this was easier with Red Bull Energy Drink than it is with ordinary food products, soft drinks, or detergents.
How do you boil down the brand’s essence now—what does Red Bull stand for?
Let me answer this question in advertising terms: What Red Bull stands for is that it “gives you wings…,” which means that it provides skills, abilities, power etc. to achieve whatever you want to. It is an invitation as well as a request to be active, performance-oriented, alert, and to take challenges. When you work or study, do your very best. When you do sports, go for your limits. When you have fun or just relax, be aware of it and appreciate it.
How do you view Red Bull now—as a beverage company or as a media company? Or something else? It seems now that the beverage and the content are two parts of something bigger, where the beverage is supporting the sports/youth culture community, not the other way around.
This is not either or, it is as well as. Both communicate “The World of Red Bull.” Since the beginning it has been a brand philosophy and how to look upon the world, rather than pure marketing for consumer goods. In both areas we are talking about content distribution as a way to tell our consumers and friends what is new about our approximately 600 athletes worldwide, their achievements and next projects; another band launch or song hit from Red Bull Records; what is going on regarding nightlife, people, events, culture, Formula 1, etc.
So it is both ways, the brand is supporting the sports and culture community, as well as the other way round.
Do you have any personal goals in terms of Red Bull content that you hope to fulfill in the next few years? (eg: producing scripted programming, winning an Academy Award, etc.)
Yes, we have. Our goal is to establish a global media network, which covers all individual segments, such as print, TV, mobile, music, and new media. It will be the responsibility of the Red Bull Media House to produce and distribute all the content Red Bull is able to provide.
When do you expect that Red Bull Media House will be a profitable business?
There is no doubt that this will take some time. Its first and primary goal is to produce and distribute high quality and unique content for our own channels as well as for our partners. What one also has to take into account is that we create editorial media value for our brand, which offsets investments. In the long term, we expect that Red Bull Media House to be profitable.
Will you stay hands-on in the media efforts for the foreseeable future?
Yes, of course, no question.