Red Bull gives me wings

I had a bit of an odd experience a couple of weeks back at the Media140 Conference, because Red Bull and an upcoming BBC documentary came together to help me understand exactly what it is we at Tuttle produce for people. In particular, that’s fed into an understanding of what we are beginning to do for Counterpoint and – through them – the British Council.

Inspiration kicked off with Red Bull. A whole section of the conference was dedicated to what they’re up to; watching slides about their Flugtags, Air Races, X-Fighters, and so on, I realised that they had moved from being a product brand to a grouped set of related experiences. As one of the speakers pointed out, ‘the marketing becomes the product’.

It’s possible to read that as a kind of Ballardian condemnation of Red Bull, but I think to do so is missing the point. In Red Bull’s case, ‘the marketing becomes the product’ doesn’t mean that the reality of a consumer good has been replaced by the ephemerality of marketing activity. Rather, it’s a comment about what’s available for Red Bull consumers to invest their money and time in.

Red Bull began as an energy drink; people buying Red Bull brought liquid in a can. Marketing activity – designed to amplify the drink’s energy positioning – became more and more elaborate. Now, if people want to buy into the Red Bull brand, they can do so by enjoying a wide variety of different events.

That creates a deep change in what Red Bull is. It no longer sells you a drink that makes you dynamic; rather, it sells the experience of dynamism in a variety of formats. Given that, it seemed to me to be no longer enough to call Red Bull a consumer brand. Rather, (I thought) it has become a highly profitable experience channel. But what is an experience channel?

Next up to speak were Innocent; they provided a little more inspiration. They’re renowned for their ability to engage consumers, by making them feel that they’re personally engaged with the brand. That sense of personal engagement is very important. Consumer brands communicate through monologues. Experience channels, however, are much more two way. Ideally, they’re all about conversation.

That sense of conversation led me away from what you’d traditionally call a brand, and towards the BBC. A little while back, I went to the launch of Digital Revolution, a partially crowd-sourced documentary series. The team there have been filtering traditional documentary making methods through online conversation and engagement. They’ve turned the documentary development and production process itself into an experience channel; one that a variety of very savvy, and very engaged, web denizens have been deeply engaging with.

Thinking about these three led me to a basic definition of what an experience channel is. That’s something I’ve been jotting down notes about over the last week or so. Rather than go into full details here – and create a truly epic post – I’m going to do some more jotting, and post a basic experience channel definition at some point over the next few days. Don’t touch that dial! (as I would say if I were a radio host).

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