Dietrich Mateschitz discovered Red Bull, the infamous energy drink, in Bangkok when he was marketing director for Blendax, a German toothpaste brand. Every time he was on his way from the airport in Bangkok he would buy a bottle: ‘‘One glass and the jet lag was gone.’’ In fact, he loved the product so much that in 1984 he joined forces with two Thai partners, a fatherand-son team, to turn the product into a global brand. They tinkered with the tonic’s formula, carbonated it, and translated the Thai words Krating Daeng into English—Red Bull. The ingredients: taurine, an amino acid; glucuronolactone, a substance found in the body; and caffeine. The brew went on sale in Austria, Mr. Mateschitz’ home country, in 1987. Red Bull was launched in Germany in 1994 and in the United Kingdom in 1993. By 2002, Red Bull had become a global cult drink selling 1.6 billion cans in 62 countries.
Initially, nightclubs and discos were not very keen on taking on the product. Instead, Mr. Mateschitz relied on traditional retail outlets and gas stations. Little by little, Red Bull gained a following among extreme sports enthusiasts, such as snowboarders and windsurfers, because of its alleged potency. Red Bull cultivates an image of being a tonic that makes old-age soft drinks look tame by comparison. According to some critics its potency is so big that it might in fact be dangerous. In the Swedish press, three deaths were linked to the consumption of Red Bull. In fact, France and Denmark do not allow the brand to be sold.
Red Bull reinforces its edgy image by sponsoring extreme sports (e.g., a mountain-bike race down a German salt mine) and the Arrows Formula One (F1) team. The F1 sponsorship also gives Red Bull global exposure. To a large degree Red Bull’s success is due to the consistent image that has been nurtured over the years through clever marketing activities. Since its launch in Austria, Red Bull has used the same communication strategy and the same tone of voice. It is touted as ‘‘the energy drink that gives you wings.’’ Red Bull has largely ignored mass marketing. The only advertising is a series of whimsical TV cartoons. Instead Red Bull relies a great deal on event marketing and sponsorships. For instance, the company sponsors an annual Flugtag, where contestants build their own flying machines and leap off a parapet.
In most Western countries, Red Bull is pitched at nightclub goers who mix the tonic with alcohol, giving users the energy to party through the night. In several Asian countries, though, a different imaging strategy is needed. For starters, it is sold in a bottle, rather than a can—to tout a health drink image. In Malaysia, the majority of the population is Muslim. Hence, a bar focus would be unacceptable. Instead, the goal is to project Red Bull as an energy drink that can be consumed on its own. Just as in the West, sports sponsorship is a key activity although the focus is on more traditional motor sports such as motorcycle races and 4-wheel drive competitions. Target audiences include students, drivers, and athletes, with the main distribution channel being convenience stores. In Thailand, the home of the original Red Bull recipe, a new Red Bull product was created to differentiate between two distinct target markets. The original tonic is promoted as a pick-me-up for taxi drivers and bluecollar workers. Red Bull Extra, the new line extension, targets trendy teens and bar-goers. To capture their imagination, the brand uses sponsorships of extreme sports events and concerts.


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