Riding the event bike

Nuremberg is the town in Germany where the Nazi movement was born. So it was also the town that got itself bombed out of shape during World War II. As we walked towards the old town square that has been rebuilt as it was before the war we were a little surprised to see some strange structures going up, right in the middle of the square. My “event manager” gene kicked in and I started explaining to my family that the strange structure is probably a stage being set up for a rock show (we have seen stages being set up in front of the Gateway of India for music shows, so why should Nuremberg be any different). It was then I noticed some boys and girls dressed in Red Bull T-shirts dispensing Red Bull Cola (yes, there is a Red Bull cola). I got speaking with them and discovered that the stage-like apparition being set up was not really a stage but a huge ramp for the Red Bull District Ride, a stunt and skill biking competition. From the way the ramps were set up it was likely that the bikers were not just locals but professional stunt bikers from all over Europe. Red Bull probably live webcast the event and garnered a few million views.


In the Harvard Business Review article “How Red Bull Creates Brand Buzz”  branding guru David Aaker points towards the mega event that Red Bull staged on Sunday, October 14, 2012. On that day Felix Baumgartner rose more than 24 miles above New Mexico desert in the 55-story ultra-thin Helium Red Bull Stratos balloon, jumped off, and reached 830 miles per hour during a nine-minute fall, setting a slew of records. It was an event sponsored by Red Bull and about eight million fans watched the event live. Another 35-plus million watched it later on YouTube. Prof Aaker says that Red Bull Stratos was a mega event, but Red Bull also organises many other events like the Red Bull Flugtag, where common folks are encouraged to build human-powered flying machines and pilot them off a 30-foot deck above a water landing. The scope of Red Bulls sponsorships is overwhelming and involves all kinds of “high energy” sports. By the way the brand is set to top $4 billion in sales with profits of over $400 million.

There is a lot to learn from Red Bull sponsorship programmes, says Prof Aaker. Instead of using high-profile sponsorships (a la Olympics, World Cup football), the brand has created a large set of relatively inexpensive sponsorships that, because of the umbrella effect of Red Bull, have a cumulative impact. They are effective because they are completely on-brand, very consistent over the long term and are creative/edgy. Ideal for generating buzz in mainstream and digital media.


I wonder if any Indian brand has attempted an event-based buzz creation strategy of that scale.


Pepsico’s Kurkure tried an interesting event strategy, the Kurkure Express. A train ride through India with a bunch of Kurkure fans and minor celebrities. I wonder if they want to make it an annual event.


Royal Enfield does a terrific job of creating events exclusively for its bike owners or should we call them bike lovers. The three-day Rider Mania conducted in Goa attracts several thousand bike enthusiasts. The Himalayan Odyssey conducted by Royal Enfield has become an annual homage to the mountains; the event is so popular that the company has created a Women Rider edition as well.


These and more such events point towards the potential for creating brand-driven event properties. While we do not have anything of the scale of the Red Bull Stratos as yet in India, I am hopeful we will get there soon.


There a few key lessons to be learnt from Red Bull’s event promotion strategy. You cannot expect every event to be a super duper hit. You need to have a central theme running through all your branded events. Doing an event that is buzz-worthy is expensive and you got to be ready to take it in your chin if it flops badly. There has to be an ecosystem that encourages events that can then bubble up to the top.


And yes, Nuremberg may make news yet again, but this time with something that will be more fun for the human race.


The author is an independent brand strategist, author and founder, Brand-Building.com, a brand advisory. He can be reached on ambimgp@brand-building.com