Red Bull Stratos as Shock Co-Branding

We all love Red Bull brand now

Like many other million people in the world, I followed live the magic moments before and after the record stratospheric jump by Felix Baumgartner within the Red Bull Stratos project. I wanted to feel the experience and its storytelling personally as I planned to analyze this branding case, like many other professionals and professors interested in branding and reputation.

I have read several quick reaction analyses published within the first couple of days after the event (this is in fact also a quick reaction comment-analysis). There is unanimity among marketing and branding experts praising Red Bull strategy.

Many analyses reach almost the level of euphoria. I was amused to see that some analysts talk about a NEW ERA opened by Red Bull project. Some blog readers may know that I have a rather contrarian mind. But no, this time I will not say that I dislike Red Bull branding strategy and results. I praise it, without proposing caveats. Bravo. Great job!

In fact, I participated in the social media conversation showing my admiration to Red Bull marketing team.

Shock Co-Branding

All the same, my perception is that Red Bull has not created something new. This is just marketing, more precisely through sponsorship means. They selected an excellent partner in order to create a powerful storytelling, the event reached the desired visibility, it created very nice branding results, and all this was perfectly activated by Red Bull marketing guys’ team. Red Bull just mastered all the pieces of this very special branding project.

There is really nothing new in this story for people, professionals and experts dealing with sponsorship as a corporate branding strategy.

Nevertheless, there is truly something that makes this story special and worth to be analyzed and proposed as example to take lessons from: the size and impact of the event. It was monstrous, and there are many published metrics showing the vast media and social media impact.

In this sense, Red Bull Stratos project shared a lot of commonalities with genuine sport mega-events, like the Olympics or FIFA World Cup. In terms of branding and marketing, the difference is that Baumgartner’s show and global media attention was concentrated in just few hours, against three weeks for the other mega events.

While strongly concentrated in time, it was a mega-event by its global reach and intensity in terms of media impact.

This allows us to consider Red Bull Stratus as a shock co-branding event.

Shock co-branding is a concept that, as far as we know, we forged here at MRI Universidad de Navarra by 2009. This was a report by professor Francesc Pujol (myself) about media impact of Beijing Olympics 2008 and its implications in terms of city and country branding.

Francesc Pujol (2009) ‘Shock Co-Branding: When Olympics Meet Beijing and China’, Presented at Sports Mega Events and their Legacies Conference, by International Association of Sport Economists, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2-4 December 2009.

Thinking in sport mega-event as shock co-branding strategies allow us to approach in a simpler way the intangible benefits and legacies associated in hosting such events or, in Stratus case, to get the naming rights.

This is how we understand shock co-branding and its implications, as presented in Pujol (2009) report:

Elements of Shock Co-Branding


  1. Two independent brands
  2. Both brands have complete different business and markets
  3. Common, complementary and divergent brand value elements
  4. Both brands establish a common project, linked to a short  time span event
  5. The event produces and extraordinary temporary increase of media coverage of both brands.
  6. After the event, media coverage decreases to normal times
  7. Each brand separates again, working in their original business

Consequences of Shock Co-Branding

  1. Two independent brands merger during the short time event
  2. Extreme increase and time-concentrated media coverage
  3. Brand perception can be dramatically and durably affected by  the event and media treatment of it
  4. Temporary merger of brands during the event can produce a transfer of brand values from one brand to the other
  5. So, a modification of brand value and brand perception may be consequence of the time concentrated increase of media coverage and/or the acquisition of brand components of the other brand.

Our perception is that the check list gives positive results for all points concerning the alliance between Felix Baumgartner team and sponsor Red Bull within the co-brand Red Bull Stratos.

Our conclusion is that right now many of us love Red Bull brand more than three days ago, as now its brand value profile includes new attractive components channeled by Stratus storyline, while it has strengthen its own core values, as they were all of them perfectly aligned with the stratospheric jump. And yes, the improvement of Red Bull brand value will drive new and loyal energetic drink customers.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch

Red Bull got a perfect score.


But this was not achieved against nothing and didn’t come in a magic, automated way.  Red Bull Stratos success story is not telling us how corporations should spend their marketing money from now on. Not that directly, for sure.

This case cannot be easily replicated, as far as is it quite unique by each one of two co-branding partners. This case provides some sponsoring insights, but it does not consist in just applying a marketing technique.

I am persuaded that we will find in the next future a lot of imitators. My guess is that many of them will fail and will waste a lot of marketing money. This goes in the same way that a successful viral campaign. You cannot produce new viral successes by just replicating all the ingredients of the magic recipe. We have a lot of examples on this.

Furthermore, Red Bull company did not run the project at zero brand costs. A crucial element of the thrilling Stratos storyline was that there were some probabilities to suffer a human casualty. If Felix Baumgartner died in his world record attempt, the current massive and unanimous praise would turn into a tremendous corporate reputation crisis. Red Bull took the risk and won. Taking risks is apparently part of Red Bull DNA brand values, but it is probably not the case for many other corporations.


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