Comment - The Tricks Behind Red Bull's Felix Baumgartner PR Stunt
Let’s face it, when it comes to stunts there really was only one game in town this week.
However, rather than simply say what a marvellous piece of activity it was (and it was), I thought that I’d just swiftly call out some of the utterly genius bits and bobs that went into making it an epic-scale success for its sponsor, Red Bull.
The “abandoned” attempt
Call me a cynic, but did anyone get the vaguest sense that the first attempt, called off due to “high winds in the stratosphere” (or something like that) might have been a stroke of publicity genius?
Whether this was a stunt to hype the whole event or a genuine postponement, it was handled beautifully.
The media played out endless re-runs of a video of what was supposed to have taken place (complete with CGI Red Bull-branded jumper) and managed to stoke themselves up into a frenzy of excitement and anticipation.
What’s more, the international TV cycle simply meant that, instead of making sure that they had sent a press release to every media outlet in the whole world to let them know that something was happening the following week, global 24-hour news let anyone who wasn’t already aware of the event know exactly what was going on.
It also ensured that a live TV event was created – it made the main event infinitely bigger than otherwise it might have been.
Another act of genius. If anyone on God’s Earth can tell me why the 50-or-so people sitting at desks watching a chap jump off a helium balloon were required, I shall be delighted.
But Red Bull and Baumgartner managed to roll out more flight engineers and weathermen than NASA requires for the average rocket launch (not that they do that anymore, so they’ve probably all been hired as Red Bull ringers).
All that it managed to do was create an epic piece of theatre. Not only did the camera crews have something to film (even if they didn’t know quite what they were filming), the PR guys gave the whole affair a sense of it being an even more remarkable achievement and therefore even more worthy of coverage.
The gentle branding
It’s quite likely that the media would’ve run this story if Felix had dressed up as a giant red cow and leapt. However, it struck me that they were able to give the whole affair far more airtime precisely because the branding by the sponsor was so subtle.
Red Bull perfectly judged (through their CGI mock-up of the jump in particular), just how much they could get away with to get their association across, without becoming so obtrusive that the whole event turned into a corporate branding exercise.
Who knows what might have been had they gone balls-out with the logo, but I reckon they got 100% more coverage because their logo was 90% smaller – more exposure with less branding. Clever. And brave.
The social media "slip"
Once again some speculation. But, seriously, who leaves a post (from Red Bull on Facebook) announcing “Felix, we knew we could c*#t on you” (it should have been “count”) up for three hours before removing it – long enough for it to get over 5,500 'Likes' and to start getting mainstream media coverage?
Stranger things have happened, I suppose, and perhaps it was cock-up rather than conspiracy. Who knows, it seems Red Bull can ride even their misadventure.
The parodies and homage
Finally, of course, the whole event will inevitably create a wave of parody and homage.
Global events (as this has become – another “Virgin balloon around the world moment”) create moments that live on in meme form for years. In this case, I just wanted to call out the lucky people at Lego and at the Model Makers Fair in particular for this gem:
Red Bull are past masters at this PR malarkey – witness the fact that, on the same weekend as Felix Baumgartner jumped off a balloon from the edge of space, their F1 race team won a Grand Prix and a BoxCart Championships was held in their name somewhere else around the world.
But with this one – and a few well-placed tricks of the trade – they’ve surpassed even themselves. If there is a PR equivalent of the sound barrier, I think it's been shattered this week.
James Gordon-MacIntosh is a managing partner at Hope&Glory PR.
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