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Carroll School of Management Graduate Programs

Carroll School Marketing Professors Research the Edgy Marketing Efforts of Red Bull

in an interesting study, Professors Adam Brasel and James Gips find people behave in ways similar to what the Red Bull brand personifies: reckless and aggressive.

Red Bull cans
Research shows Red Bull brand traits are personified in actions.

Professors S. Adam Brasel and James Gips of the Carroll School of Management released some interesting research this spring that showed the power of unintended consequences of ambient advertising and product placement. The research, which examined the edgy marketing efforts of Red Bull the energy drink, was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

The professors asked 70 subjects (38 percent were female, 62 percent were male, the mean age was 21) to control car racing video games. Each subject’s racecar functioned identically, but sported different brand logos and different colors. Red Bull was one of the company bands. Others included Guinness, Tropicana, and Coca-Cola.  The cars all performed the same, only their paintjobs were different.

Red Bull Car Racers Drive Edgily

Interestingly, the subjects in control of the racecar sporting the Red Bull (red and gold) logo behaved in ways similar to what the brand personifies: edgy, reckless, powerful, and aggressive. But the resulting behavior was less predictable. The subjects driving the Red Bull cars all drove exceedingly fast, some crashed and burned, losing valuable time, while others excelled.

Brasel, an assistant professor of marketing at the Carroll School of Management, and the lead author of the study, says that people racing the Red Bull car tended to do great or they tended to do really horribly. “We found very little middle ground."

What’s causing the change in behavior?

Brasel and Gips say the changes in behavior took place without the consumers’ awareness of their own behavior. None of the subjects racing the Red Bull car connected their behavior to the brand. When discussing what had happened afterward, none thought their behavior was logical. This is called “non-conscious brand priming” and results from the personality of a brand pushing a consumer to act in ways consistent with that personality when exposed to brand imagery.

The study shows that non-conscious brand priming can also impact actual consumer performance, with both positive and negative consequences and create behavior that the consumers don’t expect.

Red Bull, in fact, built their brand identity around “edgy.” Their slogan is “Red Bull Gives You Wings.” Some recent promotions include airplane races and full-contact ice-skating obstacle courses. These campaigns work. On the website, users can enter words or phrases they associate with specific brand names. The following words came up consistently for Red Bull: "speed" "power" "risk-taking," and "recklessness." These occur ten times more frequently for Red Bull than the other 14 most common drink brands, according to the study.

Brasel says that as marketers we can leverage this phenomenon to our advantage. But as consumers, we should also be wary of how this effect impacts our behavior, especially now that we are moving away from traditional marketing and towards more multi-media marketing. This results in an even greater exposure to logos. “Branding is having a greater effect than most of us realize," he says.