Instead of talking about itself, Red Bull built a community.
At its core, Red Bull is not a unique product.
The market is replete with energy drinks. 1Red Bull. (2023, April 6). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Bull
However, Red Bull diverged from traditional marketing tactics, choosing to create a vibrant community of action sports enthusiasts and devotees.
The brand’s strategic, courageous, and enduring efforts to establish this community offer valuable insights for PR professionals.
The Great Misconception: “Action Sports Are Not Real Sports”
In the early days of action sports, the broader sports community often dismissed these activities as little more than attention-grabbing diversions for thrill-seekers and non-competitive individuals.
Consequently, many in the sports world failed to recognise the genuine athletic dedication, discipline, and talent that action sports practitioners possessed, instead categorising them as individuals more concerned with social media recognition and personal gratification.
This dismissive attitude slowly shifted as action sports gained visibility through social media and other platforms. A growing audience became increasingly captivated by the unique blend of creativity, athleticism, and daring that action sports demanded.
Yet, critics continued to argue that the lack of standardised competition formats and the sports’ apparent prioritisation of style over substance precluded them from being taken seriously within the broader athletic community.
Empowering Action Sports Athletes by “Giving Them Wings”
In a bold move to differentiate itself within a saturated energy drink market, Red Bull strategically decided to champion action sports athletes. The company understood the untapped potential of these athletes and the unique appeal of their sports.
Red Bull effectively positioned itself as a vital supporter of this growing community by endorsing, sponsoring, and organising events for action sports practitioners. This approach allowed the brand to forge strong connections with athletes and fans, creating a loyal following that extended far beyond the reach of conventional advertising campaigns.
To maintain a cohesive PR strategy, Red Bull embraced the concept of individuals soaring spectacularly through the air as their core message. This powerful imagery aligned seamlessly with the company’s slogan, “giving people wings,” and reinforced the idea that Red Bull was not only a source of energy — but also an enabler of extraordinary feats.
By incorporating this message into its marketing and PR efforts, the brand effectively captured the essence of action sports — daring, exhilarating, and gravity-defying — and used it to forge a special connection with its audience.
This alignment of the brand with the world of action sports has paid dividends for Red Bull. The company’s commitment to supporting these athletes and organising high-profile events has elevated its image from a mere purveyor of energy drinks to an influential player in the sports and entertainment industries.
Uplifting and Legitimising the Action Sports Community
Today, action sports have transcended their previous status as recreational activities and are now widely acknowledged as legitimate athletic endeavours. This shift in perception is mainly due to the growing community of action sports athletes who have demonstrated incredible dedication, skill, and talent in their respective disciplines.
Red Bull’s patronage has been critical in this transformation. The brand’s backing has given athletes the resources and opportunities to hone their abilities and showcase their talents globally — and other brands have followed suit. 2Van den Steen, Eric, and Carin-Isabel Knoop. “Red Bull (A).” Harvard Business School Case 714 – 401, March 2014. (Revised March 2018.)
The increasing involvement of brands has profoundly impacted the industry. With more resources, sponsorships, and opportunities available to athletes, the level of competition has risen, leading to more significant innovation and progression within each discipline.
This support, in turn, helps legitimise action sports further, as it demonstrates that significant brands recognise the value and appeal of these activities in terms of athletic achievement and marketability.
Furthermore, the growing interest in action sports has expanded the audience for these activities, providing additional revenue streams and exposure for athletes and the brands that support them. In this way, Red Bull’s pioneering approach has transformed its brand and reshaped the energy drink industry landscape.
Challenging Conventional Wisdom to Build a Community
Red Bull identified an opportunity to connect with a group of individuals often overlooked or dismissed by the broader sports community — the “stupid majority.” In this instance, the term refers to those who underestimated action sports practitioners’ athletic prowess and dedication, often due to a lack of understanding or familiarity with these sports.
By aligning with the ”smart minority” and supporting action sports athletes, Red Bull tapped into a dynamic and underserved market eager for recognition and validation.
Instead of pouring resources into promoting its product, Red Bull shifted its PR approach towards fostering a neglected community. By doing so, the brand created unique and engaging content that resonated with its target audience, showcasing the incredible skills, dedication, and achievements of action sports athletes. 3How Red Bull Creates Brand Buzz. (2012, December 21). Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2012/12/how-red-bull-creates-brand-buzz
This community-centric approach not only elevated the athletes but also served to humanise and authenticate the Red Bull brand, demonstrating its genuine commitment to supporting the action sports community.
The success of Red Bull’s PR strategy in targeting the stupid majority offers valuable lessons for businesses in various industries. By identifying often misunderstood or underestimated individuals, brands can create meaningful connections with these outsider communities and leverage their passion for creating engaging and authentic content.
As more and more people become exposed to the world of action sports, the outdated notion of these activities as mere flashy hobbies for adrenaline junkies and non-competitive individuals is gradually being replaced by a newfound appreciation for the genuine athletic talent and determination that underpins these thrilling and visually spectacular pursuits.
Muniz, A. M., & O’Guinn, T. C. (2001). Brand community. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(4), 412 – 432.
Schau, H. J., Muñiz Jr, A. M., & Arnould, E. J. (2009). How brand community practices create value. Journal of Marketing, 73(5), 30 – 51.
Fournier, S., & Lee, L. (2009). Getting brand communities right. Harvard Business Review, 87(4), 105 – 111.
PR Resource: The Stupid Majority
PR Strategy: The Stupid Majority
From what conversion theory tells us, minorities tend to hold their opinions more firmly. This is reasonable since going against the majority comes at a higher social cost. 4Silfwer, J. (2017, June 13). Conversion Theory — Disproportionate Minority Influence. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://doctorspin.net/conversion-theory/
But some minorities have an additional advantage:
Smart Minority = a minority of today that will grow into a new majority of tomorrow.
In contrast, some majorities have an additional disadvantage:
Stupid Majority = a majority of today that will steadily decline into a minority of tomorrow.
Examples of Stupid Majorities
Stupid Majorities are to be found everywhere:
“Riding a skateboard isn’t a real sport!”
(Stupid Majority vs Red Bull)
“Computing is about bits and bytes, not design!”
(Stupid Majority vs Apple)
“Websites and apps can’t produce movies and television shows!”
(Stupid Majority vs Netflix)
“Electric cars can’t compete with gas cars!”
(Stupid Majority vs Tesla Motors)
“Hotels must have hotel rooms!”
(Stupid Majority vs AirBnB)
“Taxi companies must have taxis!”
(Stupid Majority vs Uber)
“Media companies must produce media!”
(Stupid Majority vs Facebook)
Identifying a Stupid Majority (and siding with a Smart Minority) will clarify your core message and attract highly engaged minority supporters.
Since time’s by your side (the Stupid Majority will be gone no matter what), targeting a Stupid Majority might become your career’s most influential PR strategy.
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|Red Bull. (2023, April 6). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Bull|
|Van den Steen, Eric, and Carin-Isabel Knoop. “Red Bull (A).” Harvard Business School Case 714 – 401, March 2014. (Revised March 2018.)|
|How Red Bull Creates Brand Buzz. (2012, December 21). Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2012/12/how-red-bull-creates-brand-buzz|
|Silfwer, J. (2017, June 13). Conversion Theory — Disproportionate Minority Influence. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://doctorspin.net/conversion-theory/|