Red Bull should have known better – and now they do

August 2013

By something of a coincidence, I already had in my mind that I was going to write about Red Bull this month. The thought that I would stemmed from an article in Marketing Week which discussed the brand’s unusual, but highly successful, strategy of shunning normal advertising and, instead, largely putting their marketing spend into high-adrenaline and high-danger sports and stunts.

Then on the very day I was just starting to pull my words together and wax lyrical about how this great brand had carved a unique global position for itself which embodied the thrills and spills which most of us love to watch but wouldn’t dare take part in (or couldn’t afford to), I noticed a news piece about them on the front page of the BBC website.

I hadn’t even finished reading the first sentence of the news piece before I realised that Red Bull were in a spot of bother. You may have also read the same thing, but, if no, then their naïve crime was to threaten a tiny independent brewery employing a handful of people in Norwich with legal action if they didn’t change their name from Redwell. Does Redwell sound anything like Red Bull? I, and indeed many others, quickly took the view that ‘no it doesn’t’, but clearly some idiot in the legal department of the caffeine-infused drink’s headquarters in Austria thought it did.

What happened next is a lesson in a) how to get yourself some good publicity as the underdog (Redwell Brewery), how to quickly back down when the world is calling you a nasty bully (Red Bull), and, for all parties, the power of social media on a number of fronts.

So to deal with those three points in the same order, Redwell, rather smartly, alerted the media to their position and, no surprises, the media picked up the story in an instant. And I think there were no surprises that the media did, because firstly they love to have a pop at big business when big business make an arse of itself, and secondly Red Bull were making an arse of themselves over something so plain silly. The effect of the news coverage was for Jo Public to go the Red Bull Facebook page and go on the offensive – and big time. And because Red Bull, rather foolishly, hadn’t put a post up even trying to justify their actions, folk were venting their anger on posts about BMX riding and whatever else the brand had chosen to post that day. This meant that a good number of the thirty nine million people across the globe that had liked Red Bull, were all seeing the negative crap rightly being thrown at the brand – and many were joining in (nobody likes a bully).

This whole story and the subsequent backlash on Red Bull’s Facebook page was unfolding on the afternoon of the 14th August, and by the evening of the next day Red Bull had backed down. Their only remaining stipulation? That Redwell Brewery didn’t ever produce an energy drink (like they were planning to anyway…).

Another rather nice element to this story is that when I first looked at the Redwell Facebook page on the 14th August it had less than 300 likes, but a week on it has nearly 1000 – and there’s now a lovely piece on there about Reuters filming an interview on how the saga unfolded and how Redwell ended up kicking Red Bull around the arena in front of a global audience.

I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall at this week’s Red Bull board meeting when doubtless the matter was discussed, but you’d have to anyway conclude that the CEO just might have asked the head of his legal department to, in future, run any proposed legal action past the Brand Director before they send in the wolves.

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