Can Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner break the sound barrier by falling from the edge of space? That is the question on everyone's mind as Baumgartner, backed by Red Bull, attempts to become the first human to break the sound barrier unaided by a vehicle.
In a huge leap (literally) for science and brand sponsorships, Red Bull is funding the historic attempt that will see Baumgartner jump out of a balloon above Roswell, New Mexico. He plans to the jump from a height of over 120,000 feet, and will be free-falling towards earth at an estimated 700mph, as soon as the high winds let him actually make the jump. Watch for updates on Twitter and live here. (Update: Today's mission was cancelled "due to strong winds" and has been rescheduled for Oct. 14.)
Like Baumgartner, the execs at Red Bull like to help folks break boundaries. Whether it is helping a few people rave into the wee hours, funding the creation of one of the most incredible Rube Goldberg-esque bits of tomfoolery ever, expanding its flavor menu or funding a daredevil's plunge nearly 23 miles to Earth, Red Bull seems game for, well, pretty much anything.
Baumgartner's jump, seven years in the works, should hit the speed of sound about 30 seconds into his dive. He previously set the record for the world’s lowest jump back in ’99 when he leaped from the iconic big statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro. Now he's getting ready for his biggest skyfall ever — and it has nothing to do with the upcoming James Bond film.
In its look at extreme branding, Slate points out that many of the world’s top adventurers have been sponsored by corporate dollars: Robert Scott had Llewellyn Wood Longstaff, a “paint magnate.” Jacques Cousteau had Irish millionaire Loel Guinness, “a wealthy cousin of the eponymous beer fortune.” Swiss watchmaker Breitling put up the cash for those two guys who flew around the world in a balloon without stopping back in 1999. Virgin-in-chief Richard Branson has Richard Branson.
So what does Red Bull get out of the deal other than spreading its name high above the planet, and the rare chance for a brand logo to appear on a space suit? “The company hopes to use information from Baumgartner's feat to build better space suits and parachutes and ‘aid development of protocols for exposure to high altitude/high acceleration," Slate notes.
With the brand leading with a 42 share vs. 35 for Monster, it's hoping to not only break the sound barrier but the taste barrier. Red Bull is looking to refresh its brand perception by expanding into flavors, with new cranberry-, lime- and blueberry-flavored drinks to be sold in red, silver and blue cans in March.
As USA Today reports, it's also facing "growing competition in the energy drink category, which researcher Mintel projects will grow 86% to nearly $12 billion within five years. Energy drink sales have rocketed as the target has expanded well beyond students cramming for tests or mixing with alcohol at parties to a much wider market including office workers and truck drivers."
"Taste is a barrier for the category, and taste is a barrier for Red Bull," says Amy Taylor, Red Bull vice president of marketing, to USA Today. "After 12 years in the U.S., we can now introduce flavors without confusion. It's about expanding the consumer base."
While test markets for the new flavors resulted in 60% incremental sales growth, she hints that it's the beginning of flavor expansion at Red Bull: "We have the intention to grow this category and this brand," and added, "We are open to innovation." Indeed they are, but what do you think Baumgartner's Stratos Jump does for the brand? Post a comment below ... and good luck, Felix!
Image below via Felix Baumgartner's Facebook page: