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Red Bull
 

Red Bull


  Red Bull
all the rage
by Abram D. Sauer
November 19, 2001

Corporate legend has it that back in the early 1980s, while traveling to Asia on business, Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz came across some very popular “energy drinks.” With his (self-described) “uncanny instinct for successful product innovations,” he schlepped a small sample of energy beverages back to Europe along with a “big idea.” Then, with a “clear vision and a lot of scientific know-how” Dietrich (and what was surely several unnamed food scientists) gave birth to the Red Bull Energy Drink.

In 1997, Red Bull sold one million cans – helped no doubt by its introduction to US consumers after a decade on European shelves. In 1998, Red Bull

 
 

sales mutated to over 300 million cans and last year – in what at first appears to be some kind of bookkeeping typo – Red Bull reported worldwide sales of US$ 1 billion (1.13B euros).

Red Bull’s logo – two thick-necked Herculean crimson bulls in opposing charge against a yellow sun – is the epitome of the kinetic virility and pugnacity the beverage claims to provide. Indisputably, the dominant energy-drink brand, Red Bull has chosen to stick with its one product beverage line, avoiding branching out into similar areas such as energy bars or other sports-related products. In addition to conventional advertising (TV, radio), the company also maintains its liquid-adrenaline image by sponsoring 138 athletes in such X-Game disciplines as BMX, motocross, hang-gliding, skateboarding, wakeboarding and bungee jumping.

Away from athletics, Red Bull has also made sponsorship forays into the rave scene, where it is the dominant brand in the market for what are known as well drinks. The Red Bull Music Academy, which features some 50 DJs workshopping twice fortnightly in subjects such as “turntablism,” was first held in Berlin in 1998, then moved to Dublin, and was scheduled for New York in 2001. Despite a handful of competitors in the energy drink market, Red Bull has proven to be the only brand capable of such an international crossover appeal, having planted itself firmly throughout Europe, the United States and a good deal of East and South East Asia. In Thailand, a T-shirt featuring the Red Bull logo is de rigueur for one’s travel uniform.

The trouble in paradise for Red Bull is that the brand exists in a world of smoke and mirrors, rumors and urban legends. For beginners, the prescribed use of the beverage (energy booster) is only ceremoniously winked at, while the infinitely more popular use (alcoholic mixer) is quietly promoted behind closed doors. Indeed, it was the discovery by dance hall devotees in Europe that Red Bull, with its high caffeine content, is the perfect agent to mix with vodka for the antidote to early morning party exhaustion. It was also under such patronage that Red Bull made it to, and began dominating, the US market. While Red Bull claims to not promote the use of its product as a mixer, it does sponsor contests and prizes for bartenders and waitresses.

Due to its growing association with alcohol and partying, Red Bull has acquired the reputation as an over-the-counter liquid narcotic. While this association produces sales, it also draws the attention of those who make a mission of lambasting such mind-altering substances. Officials in both Ireland and the US have, on occasion, banned energy drinks – including Red Bull by name – following several accidents in which energy drinks were suspected. However, the more Red Bull is associated with danger, the more its popularity grows, as if kids say to themselves, “Hey, look, this stuff is the real deal.”

Red Bull knows the corporate drill. At its website (redbull.com), an enormous amount of content is dedicated to dispelling (unpleasant) myths and criticisms associated with its product. A link called Red Bull in Theory and Practice answers questions – such as Has Red Bull ever been banned?, Who has examined and reported on Red Bull?, Is Red Bull addictive?, Is Red Bull a doping substance?, and At what age is it appropriate to start drinking Red Bull? – with statements such as “No authority in the world has ever discovered or proven an unhealthy effect in or from Red Bull” – adding (rather arrogantly) “How could they?” Red Bull even includes a comic segue addressing the popular urban myth that its product is made from bull testicles (it’s not).

For now, Red Bull’s market dominance seems assured. No other competitors have either the distribution channels or, more importantly, the posture of rebellious infamy to be considered real threats. However, it would only take one or two public catastrophes – such as the publicly-lamented deaths of the teenagers who used the health supplement creatine –to send Red Bull’s (already feigned) legitimacy into a downward spiral. Then again, alcoholic mixers, regardless of the dangers involved, never really go out of style until they are forcefully removed from store shelves.

 
     
  

Abram D. Sauer is a writer currently living in New York. He was a columnist for The China Daily while living in Beijing and is co-founder of Chopstickfactory.com.

  
     
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