Red Bull sells 7.5 billion cans a year. That's around one can per person globally, and with good reason. People love this stuff. After all, it "gives you wings" or a massive energy dose. Additionally, the brand has gone global, with millions following it and taking hold of the lifestyle it preaches. After all, this is a brand that breaks records at the edge of the Earth.
All this hype has made Red Bull one of the biggest brands of recent times, but it isn't free of controversy. This beverage struggled to free itself from a bad reputation in the past, but now, it's going strong. As a result, the brand dominates the sports world. So, how did it get to this point?
If you've ever had jet lag and wanted a way to freshen up, you have much in common with Red Bull's origin. The summer of 1982 was sweltering in Thailand, and Dietrich Mateschitz felt the burn. He was exhausted but couldn't rest. Mateschitz worked for Blendax, a German hygiene company. He frequently traveled to Thailand to meet his licensee, Chaleo Yoovidhya, and this time was no exception.
Mateschitz and Yoovidhya were total opposites. While Mateschitz was tall and imposing, with a dashing smile, Yoovidhya was quiet, stern, and determined. Still, they clicked. When Yoovidhya saw that the Austrian struggled to get some energy, he gave him a glass of a specially-brewed tonic. However, it was not just any tonic but his special recipe.
Mateschitz drank the amber-colored drink, and it was instant. He was no longer tired and even felt his mind clear up. He stared at the bottle in disbelief: Krating Daeng, which translated to English meant red Gaur. The beverage was strong, imposing, and effective. In the following months and years, Mateschitz would religiously consume it. Every time he visited Thailand, he ordered his driver to stop at any store for Krating Daeng. He wasn't the only one.
Katring Daeng was extremely popular in Asia, especially with the blue-collar workforce. Farmers, drivers, carpenters: everybody was drinking it, and it wasn't by chance. Yoovidhya had done an excellent job of understanding. Energy drinks had been immensely popular in Asia for decades, but people saw them more like tonics or even medicine.
Thailand was no exception, but they drank Japanese and Korean brands, such as Lipovitan-D. They were aimed more toward the wealthy, so blue-collar workers couldn't pay for them, which was a problem. However, to Yoovidhya, the workers needed them the most.
Yoovidhya, fortunately, found a way to solve this problem. His background in chemistry proved essential. When he studied the ingredients from several competitors, he noticed that they all followed a standard recipe. It was all about adjusting the ratios to create his personalized recipe. However, Yoovidhya also calls the recipe a product of "divine inspiration," though. Eventually, this divine recipe would be controversial.
At the moment of its launch, however, it wasn't controversial. By the seventies, Yoovidhya launched Katring Daeng, and it was a hit. His product was cheap, and the visuals related to local tradition. So, in less than two years, laborers, drivers, and factory workers relied on Krating Daeng to get through the day.
A vital advantage for Katring Daeng was that Yoovidhya was a genius marketer and understood, from the start, that he had to get deep into his country. So the brand started sponsoring Muay Thai tournaments, which are essential to Thai culture, and cementing the drink as a must-have in events.
Mateschitz was hooked on the beverage and decided to do some research. At the time, he discovered that Japan's largest taxpayer was an energy drink company. So the market was there, and it was more than just Thailand.
The Austrian businessman approached Yoovidhya with an offer to take Katring Daeng to Europe. Fast forward to now, and Red Bull is everywhere. It's even set a lifestyle that combines extreme sports, a party atmosphere, and everything in between.
With a target audience of people from 18 to 34 and with a background to boot, Red Bull was not only a drink but a cultural icon. It worked hard to instill the name into everything extreme, from rally racing to jumping off the edge of space. Still, if you were to tell Mateschitz this back in the seventies, he wouldn't have believed you.
Nowadays, Europe is one of Red Bull's hotspots. During 2020, Turkey, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia, and Switzerland were the regions with the most growth in Red Bull consumption. Plus, with sports like F1 and football, it's no wonder that Europe loves the brand, but Europe didn't grasp the brand immediately. After all, in the words of marketing expert Rory Sutherland, the product was a paradox.
As it stood, Katring Daeng was more expensive than Coca-Cola, had a strange taste, and the presentation was smaller. These factors played a factor and built up to create a brick wall. No European investor wanted to be a part of it.
Mateschitz soldiered on–if investors didn't want to be a part of it, he'd take it to Europe himself, but he needed Yoovidhya to be on board. Finally, after some convincing, both invested $500,000, and Yoovidhya's son got 2% of the company. The numbers were there, but the recipe needed changes.
Katring Daeng had an unusual name, no carbonation, and came in a transparent glass bottle. Unfortunately, this trait combination didn't click with European markets, especially with the name, but this was one of the most critical parts of the brand. When Yoovidhya created the tonic in the seventies, he needed a name that appealed to Thai culture and the hard-working individual.
That's where it hit him: the Gaur. Native to Southeast Asia, the Gaur is mighty. Some can reach seven feet in height at the shoulder and weigh up to 3,300 pounds. These massive bovines are known for working hard, pulling huge loads in rural locations. So, they were the perfect animal for a beverage for the working people.
Yoovidhya envisioned two gaurs butting their heads with an imposing sun in the background. The image was an instant hit in Asia, but Mateschitz knew it wouldn't appeal to the European market. So, he ditched the name, though the bulls could stay. After testing several iterations of the original branding, he landed on the most precise and commercially viable translation: Red Bull.
Then, he added bubbles. Carbonation is an essential difference between the original recipe and today's Red Bull, plus it's vital for the company's success. If you try Katring Daeng, as initially conceived, you'd see no carbonation. At that time, these beverages and tonics weren't big on carbonation in Asia. In contrast, the European market loved it, so Red Bull had to have bubbles.
Yoovidhya used his background in antibiotics and pharmaceuticals to finetune the recipe he had seen in other products. After all, he had noticed that all tonics and energy drinks from Asia had an ingredient group in common: caffeine, sucrose, glucose, and taurine. These components are all known for providing quick energy, and all Yoovidhya did was create his recipe with specialized flavors.
The recipe for this today is the same. That is, of course, for the original Red Bull, and it's still produced in Thailand.
Moreover, the ingredients have come under fire, especially for the combination with which they're sold, beginning with taurine, a controversial ingredient with a fair share of urban legends.
Since 2016, there's been a myth circulating in social networks that taurine in Red Bull comes from bull sperm. While the name is taurine for a reason, Taurine in Red Bull isn't bull sperm. Instead, it's a sulfuric amino acid found in bulls, other animals, and even humans. We have it in our retina, our brain, and heart, and even our blood.
The taurine for consumption comes from meat, fish, and many animal products, and it's the cause for the name's origin, which derives from the Latin Tauras–ox or bull. The compound got this name as it was first extracted from ox bile in 1827. Nowadays, it's manufactured synthetically by pharmaceutical companies.
There's evidence that suggests that taurine is anti-inflammatory. Some believe it can treat certain medical conditions, but this isn't Red Bull's goal or any other energy drink. Instead, these exist more due to tradition. Historically, Asian countries believed that taurine helped improve athletic and mental performance. However, there's no evidence to confirm or deny these claims.
As an energy drink, Red Bull hasn't been free of criticism, even being associated with deaths from overconsumption. Besides taurine, another ingredient has a bad reputation, though we drink it every day: caffeine. The main criticism is that Red Bull contains too much of it, reaching dangerous levels, but is it so?
Though the numbers are similar, we need to focus on consumption. For example, red Bull contains more sugar than coffee, usually consumed in party environments or under stressful conditions.
Its similarity with soda beverages makes it more enticing to drink in larger volumes. These are critical factors that make overconsumption easier. All the while, adding alcohol increases the risk of adverse effects on health, and it's all due to Matesitchz's marketing prowess.
Mateschitz didn't believe Red Bull would appeal to workers or make financial sense. Instead, he wanted to make it exotic and expensive. So when Red Bull officially launched in Europe in 1987, he ensured the beverage was different, with flashy visuals and a high price. Plus, there was a twist.
A sense of adventure wasn't in anyone's mind when they drank Katring Daeng in Thailand. They just needed to stay awake but not so in Europe. So why not aim at wealthy European adventurers? This was the first step to becoming a global icon.
Mateschitz targeted partiers, skiers, clubbers, and wealthy university students who wanted energy but didn't find coffee exciting. He placed the products in unusual locations with high traffic, such as universities, and sponsored parties, even pimping out students' cars with the Red Bull livery, giving birth to the iconic vehicle that has been with Red Bull for decades. In the end, it was a wealthy grassroots campaign that worked wonders. In its first year, Red Bull sold 1 million cans.
Think about it: every time you see a stunt, chances are there's a Red Bull logo on it, and it all started in 1989 when Mateschitz partnered with Gerhard Berger to promote the brand. After that, the brand didn't slow down. Red Bull linked with BMX, skiing, mountain biking, and skateboarding; they all shared one thing. Each event was an all-out party, and for those who weren't much into this, Mateschitz created another route: mainstream sports.
The company leaped from allying with one driver, Berger, to sponsoring an F1 team, then expanded into football with teams in Austria, the MLS, and German Bundesliga. Then, against all odds, Mateschitz and Red Bull took a man to the edge of space, only to have him jump.
Why? Because they could, and that's Red Bull's essence. It does things because it can. As a result, the brand has changed how we view drinks, sports, and even marketing. After all, it doesn't produce drinks; it's a vertically-integrated marketing machine.
Take the German football team, RB Leipzig. In 2009, Red Bull purchased the rights to play in the fifth division in Germany for 350,000 euros. Then, it took renamed the team and invested millions in it, to the point the team qualified for the UEFA Championship in 2019.
So, now, the team is famous. It generates revenue that now helps Red Bull. The same happened with F1. Mateschitz famously bought the ailing Jaguar F1 team for $1 after promising to invest $400 million. By 2018, the team was worth $640 million and was the third most expensive.
All the while, other companies manufacture their products. Even the drinks: that's TC Pharmaceutical's job back in Thailand. The CEO of TC Pharmaceuticals, Saravoot Yoovidhya, the son of Chaleo, says that 95% of the company's employees don't drink red bull when they enter the company, but once they're in, they start drinking it.
Red Bull is available in 165 countries. Plus, where both Katring Daeng and Red Bull are sold, it dominates both sides of the market. Now, it produces 7.5 billion cans, and, in the end, that's not good. Unfortunately, we're living at such extreme paces that we need this fuel to have just enough energy to get through the day.