BRAND HEALTH CHECK: Red bull - How can Red Bull move on from energy roots?

Under pressure from a growing number of energy drinks rivals, Red Bull needs to find a way to market itself beyond its traditional 'extreme' audience, writes Samuel Solley.

Red Bull has had its wings clipped and is struggling to hold market share. The brand that almost single-handedly created the energy drink market has come under intense pressure from rivals such as Britvic's Red Devil and Frucor's V - but some of Red Bull's problems are the result of its own success.

The brand, introduced to the UK in 1996, still holds a leading position in the market after developing a large following among UK youngsters.

This was is in part due to its sponsorship of extreme sports events, but mainly thanks to its popular use as a mixer with vodka - a combination that has become a nightclub staple.

However, it has had its difficulties and bad press. Banned in Norway in 2001, it almost suffered the same fate in Sweden, when experts expressed concern over its health effects.

Arguably, it has so successfully marketed itself as an extreme drink that it has saturated its niche market and alienated others.

Consumers drink it when they are hung over or going for a night out, but not in everyday circumstances.

Seeing someone eschew water or orange juice to drink it in a boardroom remains almost unthinkable.

So Red Bull's associations have become a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has an enviable brand identity among the much sought after demographic of 18- to 24-year-olds, but on the other, its edgy image has restricted penetration in age groups above 30.

This has relegated Red Bull to an occasion-specific drink and given it an ever-decreasing value share, dropping from 68% in 2000 to 52% in 2003, according to Mintel.

Marketing asked Richard Crabb, design director at branding marketing and digital media agency Start and previously design manager for Virgin Atlantic and senior brand manager at Orange, and Sean Pillot de Chenecey, a trends analyst and research consultant, who has worked for a range of global energy, sports and nutritional brands, where Red Bull should go from here.

DIAGNOSIS

Richard Crabb

The drink that gives you wings has been flying - until recently. It successfully targeted 18- to 24-year-olds as a cool, hardcore, street-level energy drink and fortunately this launch coincided with the popularity in alco-pops and a thriving clubbing scene, adding to its niche relevance.

Like a marketing dream, it became part of the drinking culture, spawning the vodka and Red Bull combo and cocktails such as 'shambles' (vodka, Champagne and Red Bull). Wetherspoons pubs even advertised that it had the cheapest vodka and Red Bull.

Red Bull has created three very strong positions: the energy drink for action sports; the energy drink to keep you up all night; and the energy drink as alcoholic mixer. But while Red Bull's bullish aggression still works for the 16- to 24-year-old market, it is perhaps discordant with a healthier, more chilled consumer.This has been tempered by animated TV ads, and the association with last summer's Flugtag event in Hyde Park adds even more to the 'gives you wings' strategy. But the overall problem is that Red Bull is still viewed as far too extreme to appeal to a mass market.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey

This brand has found itself stuck in a rut, but while the rot started a long time ago, the problems are by no means all of Red Bull's own making.

The energy drink market has become crowded over the past few years - one result being that the term 'energy' itself has become almost meaningless.

Added to this is that the 'clean' and trusted sector of wellbeing products has made Red Bull look decidedly 'dirty' in comparison - especially when one travels to countries where it's banned due to its ingredients.

The brand, having allied itself so closely with the dance music sector, has also been hit hard by the distinct lack of energy in that increasingly corporatised area.

Meanwhile, 'real' and healthier energy brands are taking cues from cities such as Tokyo and New York and creating inspired products packaged in exciting formats.

The emotional cues scream playful energy, meaning poor old Red Bull looks decidedly dated. This so-called energy product is just plain tired. It must now get the brand away from speed freak-land.

TREATMENT

- Be less scary and more socially acceptable to a sophisticated audience.

- Consider ways to improve accessibility, perhaps with brand variants or by tapping into cultural developments.

- Ditch the energy and sports link and adapt to fit into today's healthier and less aggressive modern lifestyle.

- Communicate what it is actually for and where and when you should drink it.

- Clarify the genuine benefits: instant physical, mental and emotional energy - a real high-energy provider.

- The 90s are over. There's a massive consumer base probably willing to buy the brand if it would just pump some healthy contents into the can.

VITAL SIGNS

Leading energy and stimulant drinks by sales

2003 2000

pounds (m) % pounds (m) %

Red Bull 495 52.7 418 68.0

Lucozade 209 22.2 127 20.7

Red Devil 61 6.5 30 4.9

V 21 2.2 3 0.5

Lipovitan B3 13 1.4 3 0.5

Source: Mintel