Last week I wrote about why it’s never a good idea to cheap out on guerilla tactics. This past weekend gave us an example of one marketer who not only didn’t cheap out, but may have set a record for spending on a one-time sponsorship event.
The example I’m referencing is this past Sunday’s “free-fall skydive” of Austrian Felix Baumgartner. “Fearless Felix” jumped out of a capsule suspended by a balloon 128,000 feet (24 miles) above the earth. He not only smashed the record for the highest ever free-fall, he also became the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9 mph before touching down safely just outside of Roswell, New Mexico.
From a social media standpoint, the numbers are pretty incredible. A reported 7.3 million people watched the event live. Soon after, a Facebook photo generated nearly 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and more than 29,000 shares in less than 40 minutes. And on Twitter, it occupied half the worldwide trending topics, pushing past seven NFL football games. The blogosphere continues to buzz about it. And the major news networks, newspapers and magazines have run stories on the stunt.
Mr. Baumgartner’s feat was not your ordinary extreme stunt or quest for a world’s record. Rather, it was a promotion bought and paid for (and managed) by Red Bull.
The question that begs asking here is a simple one: despite all the attention the event received, did Red Bull get a good value for its participation? Did it get an ample bang for its buck?
This is where the spin meisters come in. Barely 12 hours after the stunt, Huffington Post’s Janean Chun calls Red Bull’s sponsorship of Baumgartner’s jump “the most successful marketing campaign of all time,” noting that the brand “broke the traditional barriers of marketing, sponsorship and social media.” And a CEO of a digital agency opines that Red Bull stands to rack up “tens of millions of dollars” in sales because the stunt, although in typical social media style, he fails to quantify where those sales will come from.
But let’s back off the social media hyperbole for a moment. There’s no arguing the event generated a ton of social media eyeballs for the brand. But these are “social media” eyeballs. Eight million live views is big news in social media, but in the world of marketing it’s nothing special. By way of comparison, Sunday’s season opener of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” attracted over 11 million viewers–and this is basic cable.
And while the promotion is consistent with the “extreme stunts” Red Bull has become known for (at least within a select vertical market) and with its “Red Bull gives you wings” tagline, we need to remember Red Bull isn’t the lead in this story, Felix is. And while the stunt generated a ton of “free media” (specifically TV and newspaper stories), how much of it haloed onto Red Bull? I saw a one-minute story on NBC news that never bothered to mention Red Bull. I got a quick glimpse of the Red Bull logo on the parachute, much like you’d see a sponsor’s logo on a NASCAR driver’s suit.
While Red Bull has yet to release any spending figures on the sponsorship, one could easily envision an investment of $20 million or more on the stunt, plus all the advance promotion (check out this slick CG “movie trailer” that teases the event) with no guarantee of a happy outcome.
I’m not arguing that Red Bull shouldn’t pony up for events such as this. They’ve sort of primed their audience to expect such things. But the real measure of whether or not it was successful can’t be ciphered by social media buzz alone, no matter how much it gets. At some point, it has to be about sales. Good old fashioned ROI (remember that?). “Soft metrics” like mentions, hashtags, likes, shares, sentiment, etc. might make you feel all warm and fuzzy. But did the $20 million+ spent on the event generate incremental sales? Did it help drive distribution? Did it increase market share? Did it allow Red Bull to charge a premium for its product?
To be clear, I’m not saying we needed to see 40 million cans of Red Bull fly off the shelves in the hours after the stunt. Give it time. But for the cost of running a spot in each of the next SEVEN Super Bowls, it’d be a shame if all Red Bull got in return was a few million YouTube hits and some news photos with an incidental logo splashed across a parachute.
Success in the world of social media isn’t about dreaming up outrageous ideas that’ll get attention. That’s the easy part. The currency of a social media program is how well it marries to an organization’s business objectives. And in this case, we’re yet to see how that works out.
A side note to this campaign: a marketer that seems to have successfully “coat-tailed” on this sponsorship was Mars, who sent a Kit Kat bar into outer space to give Felix a “break” during his jump. You can view that one-and-a-half minute video here.
Posted by Mickey