Event Marketing - the Lessons from Red Bull Strategy

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There are few brands that can offer more lessons in how to approach the next generation of marketing than Red Bull. Focusing their strategy on earned media, cultural integration and value creation, Red Bull’s approach is pioneering, and a template that many brands would love to follow.

However it’s also proven a difficult strategy to replicate, specifically because just how different it is from the traditional marketing model. It’s definitely not just about sponsoring a couple of youth events and calling it a day. The scale of Red Bull’s commitment to non-traditional marketing is unprecedented. As far back as a decade ago, Red Bull was spending more than 80% of their significant marketing budget on non-measured media. That’s completely inverse to the traditional marketing formula of focusing on packaged communication messages and the broadcast media to spread them. Core to Red Bull’s success has been their unique strategy of focusing on brand-owned events. It struck me that one of the best ways to make the point about what it takes to seriously succeed at their level and at this game was to show the scale they are operating on.

Creating vs sponsoring

After sponsoring a handful of existing events early in the brand’s history, Red Bull made a strategic decision to create their own events and have followed this direction consistently ever since. This is a hugely important differentiator for them, and sets them a league apart from sponsor brands :

1.Early investment becomes equity
As a sponsor brand, the more important and popular the event becomes, the more it costs. However Red Bull’s initial investment in creating the event quickly starts paying compound interest, and as the event grows in stature they reap all of the rewards while costing them only the maintenance of re-running the event. 2.Sole-branding

Most big events have their platinum, gold and silver sponsors. How much are brands really getting out of these sponsorships? And if you want to distinguish your brand by putting your name on the event, be prepared to shell out mega bucks. Red Bull on the other hand is the title sponsor for every one of these ninety events, and their branding is ubiquitous and seamlessly integrated into the event rather than tacked on and diluted amongst a hundred other sponsors. There is no question who is putting on the event and responsible for bringing it to everyone and making it happen. 3.Authenticity and credibility

For me there is a big difference with a brand simply paying to have their logo attached to something, and with a brand who puts their energy, resources, and creativity to work in bringing something to life themselves, even if it is of course delivered behind the scenes by a host of event and activation agencies. There’s a different level of commitment involved, and a different type of authenticity and credibility is conferred to the brand as a result. Successful creation signals commitment to and deep understanding of the space, whereas anyone can pay to logo-ize something. I’m not saying sponsorship is always a bad thing by any stretch, but I’d argue it definitely lacks the same resonance with the audience. 4.Underground up

There is something powerful about how so many of these Red Bull events started out small and local, and have grown to be big and hugely important and influential amongst the athletes and their fans. Athletes themselves say voluntarily that many of these events are as important or second only to the X-Games in stature and importance to their career. This is huge for authenticity with their target. Red Bull has grown up with it’s audience, and them with it. 5.Control

Last point on creation vs sponsorship is about control. Namely, when you own the event, you do what you want with it. You control the promotion, the PR, the messaging, the branding, when it happens, where it happens, who’s involved. Everything. Even as a long-term sponsor of an event, you are ultimately at the mercy...
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