Got wings?

Red Bull are doing it right. Their most recent marketing exercise has raised the bar literally to stratospheric heights for brands. Red Bull Stratos saw Austrian base jumper Felix Baumgartner leaping out at the edge of the universe to skydive to earth at over 800 miles per hour to land with a skip on his feet. History was made and I watched it live, holding my breath, through the internet (and it cost me nothing). But this was not just ordinary brand sponsorship – not tagging your name onto something big enough that you will get recognised (even if it is a completely unfitting relationship, see Cadbury’s contentious Olympics 2012 sponsorship..) – but Red Bull’s own project.

The brand has been ahead of the game and pioneering event ownership for a while. Their most well-known Flugtag began in 1992. The premise of the event is for punters to enter an engineless ‘craft’ that they will jettison off from a ledge to see how far they can ‘fly’, accompanied with a goofy, comic voiceover to emphasise the hilarity and foolishness – but good fun – of the event. This never appealed to me.

The Red Bull product – a sickly, highly sugared energy drink which contains the unpalatable taurine, has traditionally been associated with clubbing and going out to have fun, as opposed to being a sports drink. This has steered the product towards the comic, as well as being dominated by their strapline Red Bull gives you wings.

But now Red Bull has gotten serious. The Stratos event was on a completely different playing field. Records were being broken. Lives and reputations were put on the line, real-time, to a global audience. And (thank our “guardian angel“) they delivered. Through live footage, Red Bull permitted almost total access to the undertaking and I felt privileged to be part of it – even if I am not a consumer of the product, I am now a fan of the brand. Of course there are critics that say that the event had no real scientific merit. But why should science own the skies? Richard Branson is already well on his way to taking punters to space.

Fundamentally I want to applaud Red Bull for engaging with their heritage in new ways and for entertaining consumers. Big brands make so much money and have such a great impact that it feels right that they should be raising the stakes in terms of engagement – in a  sound and brand-faithful way. Congratulations to Felix for this incredible feat. He is a hero, thanks to Red Bull.

Brandalism: now that’s what I’m talking about.

Rolling through Vauxhall one glum (July) morning last week, something caught my eye through the rain-spattered glass of my commuter train: a Go Compare billboard advertisement with black spray paint furiously scrawled across it in large letters after the go compare “GET SOME SINGING LESSONS”, verbalising what I think we have all thought at one time or another (perhaps in less polite words than I would like to say publicly) about this irritatingly successful brand, who have enjoyed their successes through drilling ghastly Italian ‘mockera’ into the public’s brains’.

The billboard I saw looked a little like this…

For a second I questioned the validity of the scrawl. Perhaps Go Compare were playing a joke on themselves? Trying a new way to win customers through self-deprecation? My thinking was put to rights however, when Campaign reported on the activities of the succinctly-named ‘Brandalists’. I have not been as excited about graffiti since Banksy’s early days – and truthfully graffiti hasn’t really been making a splash of late. Mostly quiet on the  paste-up and stencil front. Reportedly, 26 artists, including Banksy collaborator Paul Insect have been waging guerilla warfare on the UK’s billboards, much in the same way that brands themselves act..

Banksy’s art is all about universal truths – mostly Western society’s ills – and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was masterminding this movement. It is no coincidence that this is occurring in the run-up to the London Olympics. It is well-known how hard the ASA are clamping down on anyone who is not an Olympic sponsor. Not to mention the rumours about brands dodging ‘Olympic tax’. The whole event is a microcosm of our current times: the rich and powerful are trampling all over everyone and having a jolly affluent time doing it, and the poor and weak are struggling. Then come the rebels – the rejects – to say ‘f**k you all’. We are a nation divided: between those who are part of the celebrations and are being rewarded subsequently (even if it is just having a ticket to an Olympic event in one’s sticky paw – a Coca-Cola™ – official premier tier LOCOG sponsor – in the other), and those that have been rejected or will suffer because of the proceedings, for example, couriers, who can’t even park on the side of the road to get their deliveries done (for fear of blocking the unmentionable Olympic Lanes), unless they were wealthy enough to sponsor, a la UPS. Not to mention the punters. The economy is on its knees – no-one is moving anywhere, expect backwards, maybe. Our expectations have had to drop drastically. Once upon a time, a certain Labour government encouraged young people to get university degrees, promising them a career path at the end of it. Well, as a despondent reminder of how that fantasy worked out, I watched a news edit today about an architectural graduate who is scraping a living as a potterer.

So yes, we’re cynical and its actually a pleasure seeing the defacement of the big, bloated, overpriced commercial brands whose campaigns are squeaky-clean, jargon-filled, bland and repetitive as hell, getting a smack back in the face from the quite frankly, bored consumer-public. Roll on the Olympics (to get it over with)! I mean, how the hell can I get involved actually, apart from having to deal with the additional 3 million journeys a day in the city? By having a jolly old chuckle and sticking up my two fingers, that’s what.

/Edit/ Ok so I have just been informed that the Go Compare ‘brandalism’ was actually intentional.. well, I would have to say that was very bold and clever. Though, bad timing for  Go Compare. See more superior work by the brandalists.