The Action Replay Column from the November 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
It gives you wings, according to the advertising slogan. That’s the energy drink Red Bull, though the Austrian firm behind it is far more than just a soft drinks company. It owns a very successful Formula One motor-racing team and sponsors a series of air races that constitute a world championship. It has a US record label, Red Bull Records, but sport is clearly its main marketing tool in the quest to establish an exciting image for the brand. It spends about a billion euros a year on sports marketing, which helps it to sell over five billion cans of the stuff each year.
The main audience targeted by the advertising is young men who are into extreme sports of various kinds, and the company’s ownership of sports teams is part of this whole campaign. In 2005 it bought an Austrian football team and renamed it Red Bull Salzburg: they won the league title by a mile in 2013–14. In 2009 it bought a lower-league team in Leipzig, but this time it was renamed RB Leipzig to comply with sponsorship regulations (we should explain that the RB does not stand for ‘Red Bull’). Supporters of other German clubs have complained that it does not follow the rules on clubs having members who express their views at general meetings. When they played RB at home, Union Berlin fans displayed a banner ‘Football culture is dying in Leipzig’.
The drink (they are a drinks company, remember) is a minor variant on a beverage originally developed in Thailand. There have been claims that it poses a health risk, and it has been banned in some countries, though no risk has been conclusively demonstrated. It is the case, however, that since 2008 six athletes have died in Red Bull-organised events, from extreme skiing to motorbike racing.
Forty-nine percent of shares in Red Bull belong to Dietrich Mateschitz, who has an estimated net worth of over $5bn and owns an island off Fiji. Red Bull gives him profits.