Red Bull Sponsoring Daredevil Felix Baumgartner May Usher In Marketing Investment in Science

PHOTO: Red Bull Stratos
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Nearly a decade ago, then Advertising Age editor Scott Donaton coined the phrase Madison and Vine to describe the new way advertising (Madison Avenue) and Hollywood (Vine Street) were collaborating, blurring the lines between traditional advertising and entertainment. Think "The Apprentice," which is about people promoting themselves by working on projects that are from companies promoting themselves produced by a mogul promoting himself.

Now that Felix Baumgartner has dropped out of the sky and plummeted safely to earth courtesy of Red Bull, will we see brands move heavily into the sponsorship of science and research?

From a marketing perspective, Red Bull stayed right on message. Their tagline is "Red Bull Gives You Wings." They are involved in a number of sponsorships that emphasize the product benefit—energy in a can—thanks to healthy doses of sugar and caffeine. Those sponsorships include racing, surfing, mountain biking, soccer, bull-fighting, basketball , the X-Games and adrenaline-inducing athletic activities like cliff diving and even an event called Crashed Ice which is a combination of ice hockey, downhill skating and boardercross.

Even for a company so focused on speed and extreme sports, dropping what experts agree was millions of dollars on a project called Red Bull Stratos a mission to the edge of space and a 24 mile free-fall, is reaching. The risks were great. Many things could have gone wrong and concentrated the world's focus on a company that is marketing a beverage that some countries allow only to be sold in pharmacies and still has doctors investigating its potential negative health effects.

If Baumgartner had plunged to earth unconscious or been otherwise injured it would have amplified Red Bull's sponsorship of so many sports that are considered dangerous. But, they didn't. Austrian Skydiver, daredevil and BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner, 43, jumped out of a capsule 24 miles above the earth and fell at speeds estimated to have been greater than 800 miles per hour and landed safely back on earth. And now the question is will the tens of millions of dollars in free publicity and attention garnered by Red Bull attract other companies to move outside of traditional advertising and promotional sponsorships into the area of science and research.

It is important to point out that Red Bull isn't the first consumer company to sponsor this type of activity. Past notable sponsorships include Shaklee corporation's sponsorship of the 1988 Daedalus, which broke the record for distance for human powered aircraft, and Watchmaker Breitling's sponsorship in 1999 of the first successful round the world balloon flight. Purists will want to differentiate between adventure and science but it is clear that these types of projects have the potential to make heavy contributions to science. Nor was Red Bull the only sponsor of Stratos, there were other aerospace and equipment companies and at least one other consumer brand, GoPro, who provided wearable high-definition cameras.

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