by Nicola Kemp, 19 October 2012, 1:20pm
The success of the Red Bull Stratos project underlines a broad cultural shift in marketing where brands are attempting to improve society, not just their bottom lines, writes Nicola Kemp
Red Bull Stratos
It was a greater feat than any 30-second spot has ever achieved: skydiver Felix Baumgartner dropped from near-space (23 miles high) back to the Earth’s surface. It was an astonishing display of the value of human endurance, of adventure, investment and commitment. The fact that this mission to the edge of space was, in fact, funded and created by a brand is, quite simply, remarkable. Having achieved 8m concurrent views of the spectacle on YouTube, there is no arguing that Red Bull’s Stratos project was an astonishing leap forward in marketing, but it also delivered something far bigger than eyeballs. The fact is, a brand both created and funded a mission to the edge of space that will create data and insight that could benefit NASA. As one viewer tweeted: ‘That awkward moment when you realise an energy drink has a better space programme than your nation.’ Stratos was not a CSR project, but is far more than a marketing campaign. While commentators have already waxed lyrical about it as the very pinnacle of content, marketing experts believe that this diminishes the scope of the achievement. James Murphy, editorial director at the Future Foundation, says Stratos shows that Red Bull isn’t solely a provider of content anymore. ‘This is the purest example of the brand as a story; the brand itself has become content,’ he explains. Murphy believes the scientific and technological pay-off of the campaign reflects a level of sophistication that conventional CSR couldn’t reach. 1. Embrace a sense of purpose
‘Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?’ Steve Jobs’ pitch to John Sculley – the Pepsi-Cola CEO whom Jobs brought in to run Apple – probably wouldn’t wash with Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz. Red Bull Stratos has not only underlined the brand’s authentic link to extreme sport and innovation, it has also provided its employees with a motivation bigger than selling sugar water (or energy drinks for that matter) for the rest of their lives. James Whitehead, executive partner at JWT – the agency that, in a clever bit of marketing, sent a Kit Kat bar 22 miles into space to celebrate fearless Felix – says people want more of a relationship with brands. ‘They want to be involved with them and share them, so [brands] need to have a bigger purpose and a conscience that extends beyond sales,’ he says. 2. Beyond Big Society: do more than grow your bottom line
Consumers may have expressed discomfort at David Cameron’s vision of Big Society, but Red Bull Stratos raises difficult questions about marketing taking off where government funding ends. ‘Red Bull has taken science forward and no one is questioning it. Whether you agree that this will benefit NASA or not, there is no doubt that it is fuelling a passion for science,’ says Sav Evangelou, executive creative director at Kitcatt Nohr Digitas. He believes there is a huge opportunity for brands to carry this shift forward if they can share knowledge or deliver progress to society, whether it is through education or investment. Sean Kinmont, managing partner, creative director at 23red, says the main thing marketers can learn from Red Bull Stratos is that ‘higher order’ benefits can be generated by things other than charitable links or associations with good causes. ‘People can be equally inspired by feats like this one, which take them vicariously into self-realisation, courtesy of the brand,’ he says. 3. Move beyond ROI: pitch for emotional impact
Space exploration appeals to noble human interests: the desire for adventure and a belief in the power of science. James Kirkham, managing partner at Holler, says...