Red Bull Stratos a leap for athletes, marketing

On Sunday, Oct. 14, Felix Baumgartner shattered the world record for the highest balloon ride and parachute jump. Plunging 24 miles to the Earth, he completed the longest and fastest free-fall on record. This stunt was sponsored by the company who produces the popular energy drink Red Bull. The company has sponsored many extreme sporting events over the years, contributing to its image of extreme thrill, adventure and excitement.

Stratos was successful. Baumgartner landed safely on Earth after a four-minute free-fall, before the eyes of more than eight million online viewers. Although his jump was a great achievement, many people wonder where Red Bull’s place should be.

Obviously, the Red Bull Stratos was an extremely dangerous stunt. Risk and uncertainty are what draw such a large audience to these kinds of activities. Most people would never jump out of a space capsule 24 miles above the Earth’s surface. There are too many things that could have gone wrong. Baumgartner’s pressurized suit could have malfunctioned, or his parachute could have failed to open properly. He put his life on the edge for every second of his descent. Not all stunts sponsored by Red Bull have concluded with such a happy ending, and while many people view his stunt with awe and admiration, others are disgusted with Red Bull for promoting a human taking such a risk. However, regardless of how the news of the event was received, it has gained global attention.

The reality is that this kind of sponsorship is effective for companies. The reason that it was extremely dangerous is the same reason that it is an extremely effective advertising endeavor: People are fascinated with the limits of human potential, and Baumgartner proved that the known limits can be surpassed. Promoting athletes allows products to gain public recognition. We crave a taste of the thrill they experience and desire to be a part of the action. Although we know sipping an energy drink will not simulate an extreme experience, we still associate it with living on the edge. This influences the decisions of consumers and leads them to select brand names that coincide with the image they are trying to express. The stigma of a Starbucks cup is the polar opposite of a Red Bull can because the products are thought to be consumed by different crowds.

The idea of associating products with activities is a basic advertising strategy. In the 1960s and ’70s, the orange-flavored drink Tang was sold as the beverage of astronauts. This summer, advertisements led us to believe Coke beverages and Subway sandwiches were the fuel of Olympic athletes. Companies have been coming up with more creative ways to get their names out. Instead of focusing on broad advertising strategies, such as the Gatorade symbols plastered on the water coolers of almost every professional football team, some producers are choosing to sponsor specific, extreme events. Professional snowboarders, surfers, mountain climbers and other extreme sport specialists are individually sponsored by companies.

Red Bull sponsorship, as well as that of thousands of other companies, helps make the dreams of many athletes possible. Often the most talented, cunning and daring athletes have the passion and ability to achieve greatness, but lack initial means. Costs of training and equipment, support of strategists and coaches and the opportunities for practice can be provided by companies all allow people who would otherwise never have had the chance to fulfill their ambitions. Sponsorship provides athletes and people who do extreme stunts with monetary support and public attention, and it sets the company up for exciting advertising opportunities. If they are willing to take the risk and work hard to prepare themselves, companies should be able to sponsor these people.

While Baumgartner did take a huge risk, he did it knowingly. Because he was sponsored, he was able to perform his stunt with all of the equipment and support he needed to make it as safe as possible. Allowing companies to be sponsors gives them a unique opportunity to promote their products and help others reach their goals. Red Bull literally made the dreams of Felix Baumgartner come true, and it will most likely continue to help other athletes reach their goals.

Amy Mihelich ’16 mihelich@stolaf.edu is from Forest Lake, Minn. She majors in English and environmental studies.

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