What Red Bull Can Teach Content Marketers

The marketing world woke up today with Red Bull envy. At a time when brands talk of being publishers, Red Bull showed how this can be done on a grand scale: enabling Felix Baumgartner to complete a historic (and awfully cool) skydive from “the edge of space.”

The Red Bull Stratos spectacle drew millions to Red Bull’s site, with YouTube serving over 9 million streams of the leap. The Austrian energy drink brand cemented itself as the Coke of the sharable content era, willing to spend freely to produce content so good that it is indistinguishable from non-marketing content. Red Bull truly is a media company that happens to sell soft drinks.

You can imagine how many brands will look at Stratos and ask their agencies to “get me one of those.” Easier said than done. Red Bull has spent many years building up a powerhouse media arm that’s central to the company. Yes, there are lessons a GE can draw from Stratos, but there are just as many risks.

“They’re the Apple of content marketing. In a way, they’re not a useful example to look at because they’re so far ahead from where everyone is,” said Noah Brier, the CEO of content-marketing tech firm Percolate. “They’re a giant private company run by an individual with a penchant for being insane.”

With that in mind, here are some of the key lessons that Red Bull showed as brands try to figure out just how to create the type of content that makes people want it. Thanks to Noah for his help in sussing them out.

Content at the Center: In many ways, Red Bull Stratos wasn’t anything all that new. After all, Evel Knievel’s failed 1970 jump in Yakima, Wash., was sponsored by Pepsi. Brands have long pulled off stunts. What’s unique about Red Bull is that it always looks to what content it can get from its activities. The lead-up to Stratos was documented copiously, with the production of more than 15 videos. In all, Red Bull Stratos got 366 million content views on YouTube alone. There are still too many instances when brand don’t fully capitalize on events by always making content the end goal, not a sidelight.

Stay on Brand: It can be easy for brands to stray from their core message when they start to create content. If they make the content all about the brand, they’ll won’t attract much of an audience. But then they can at times create content that has nothing to do with the brand at all. Red Bull strikes the right balance because it has a clear point of view: Red Bull Gives You Wings. Put another way, Red Bull just takes something special inside of you and adds to it. Red Bull didn’t create Baumgartner’s quest; it helped supply the support to make it happen. And let’s face it, skydiving from 23 miles fits pretty well with the “gives you wings” message.

Take Risks: Brands like to talk about taking risks, but the things they consider risks aren’t all that risky. Allstate bragged at the recent ANA meeting that it took a major risk in not focus-group testing its “Mayhem” ad campaign. Ok, that’s a bit of a wager. It pales when you consider the real risks of associating a brand with a daredevil feat that could end up in unmitigated disaster. On a smaller scale, there were innumerable mechanical problems that could scuttle the launch and make it a failure. The fact that it was delayed four days because of weather shows just how variable the effort was. If brands want to play in the real-time content game, they’re going to have to get comfortable with things not always going according to plan.