The Pros & Cons of Extreme Marketing
by: Isha Edwards
Two Sundays ago, video-sharing website YouTube confirmed that more than eight million people watched Felix Baumgartner’s stratosphere jump live. While viewers and experts applauded the record-breaking effort, critics surmised that both the purpose and the impact of the jump translated to nothing more than a very elaborate publicity stunt. Based on the outcome, that appears to be true.
Despite its magnitude most had no idea that the jump was scheduled to take place, let alone twice-delayed. Those who viewed the jump did not immediately associate it with the pursuit of technological or scientific advancements. Actually, although FAQs about the mission were outlined in detail by primary sponsor Red Bull, the jump was largely lauded by the media and the masses as an incredible, historical feat by a man and a brand.
Four things attribute to this notion: 1. Using YouTube as the sole viewing platform versus providing access to all the major news networks; 2. Lack of a reputable cosigner: governing authority, NASA did not cosign on the jump nor did NASA lead or even co-lead the mission; 3. Timing; and 4. Purpose.
It is understood that any phenomena or anything of epic proportions is documented by the mass media. Limiting the Stratos mission to a website where (no offense) rock stars and everyday people are discovered also limited the mission’s credibility. NASA is among the world’s most branded authorities on all things outer space. NASA’s lack of commentary ahead of and even during the jump as well as their lack of involvement minimized the jump’s importance to the US government and, therefore, viewers. It did not help that with the retiring of Space Shuttle Endeavor, the US government’s core space program had officially ended in glorious fanfare the day prior to Baumgartner’s jump. NOTE: By way of Twitter, NASA congratulated Baumgartner and the Red Bull team same as everyone else.
Even with three strikes against them, there was room for Red Bull to adjust. It was essential to establish credibility, to set public perception, and to iterate the purpose of the jump. The two hours leading up to the jump provided ample time to educate, motivate, and inspire viewers plus create brand ambassadors. In retrospect, the assent could have been better narrated or even co-hosted by a celebrity like Chuck Yeager, Buzz Aldrin, or Mae Jemison. A screen crawler or news ticker may have helped educate those who tuned in and out (if at all) and missed hearing key facts about the mission.
As Baumgartner shared during the post-jump press conference, there were a lot of egos to weather so one may easily guess why Red Bull’s campaign was so limiting. Ironically, it was Red Bull’s M.O. for being extreme that drowned out two key outcomes of the jump: to educate and to inspire. An increase in brand awareness and sales trumped all other outcomes.
Regardless of Red Bull’s vague–perhaps misguided marketing efforts—the concept was so cool that it intrinsically sealed some things in the minds of viewers. Red Bull has Baumgartner to thank for helping to raise the bar for any brand (person, product, or company) looking to “do the most,” with regards to memorable marketing. Allowing YouTube to be the sole media outlet for the mission reinforced YouTube’s position as the source for “breaking” new talent.
Until someone displaces the moon, every promotional campaign will be measured against jumping from the stratosphere. Already, billionaire Richard Branson has felt the pinch of Red Bull’s extreme marketing tactics. Just one week after the Stratos mission, Branson tweeted about Virgin Galatic’s space progress to which a Twitter user responded, “Perhaps Felix Baumgartner should [be] on the inaugural…flight?”
If Baumgartner becomes a brand ambassador for The Virgin Group, he will surely have to bring along some Red Bull. Even though interest in Red Bull has temporarily faded since the jump, Baumgartner’s brand is now iconic. His retirement from B.A.S.E. jumping will undoubtedly create opportunities for brands that seek to be extreme. Strategic alliance anyone?