Social Proof is the ultimate way to influence behavior.
It’s so powerful, Red Bull once used it to turn literal garbage into record-breaking sales.
If you want to find out how Red Bull hacked the attention economy to become the most popular energy drink on earth, continue reading.
People tend to have more trust in things that are endorsed by people they trust—like peers and friends.
We are unconsciously influenced by other people.
People look to others when they are unsure of the correct way to behave.
That’s why reviews, quotes from customers, brand partner logos, and influencer marketing all work.
Red Bull is famous for their marketing; they definitely know how to drive attention.
They were founded by an Austrian ad executive, named Dietrich Mateschitz, after one fateful trip.
Mateschitz was exhausted during a business trip to Bangkok in 1982, and discovered Krating Daeng, a popular energy tonic created by Thai businessman Chaleo Yoovidhya.
After drinking it, the jet lag was gone and that’s how the partnership was born.
Energy drinks didn’t exist in the West, but “medicinal” products were popular in Japan & South Korea, where they were aimed at businessmen.
Yoovidhya priced Krating Daeng lower and he marketed the product to factory workers, farmers, and truck drivers.
These medicinal, working class roots were the biggest change Mateschitz made in the years he spent prepping his new company for launch.
It was all branding.
Sure, he added carbonation and some extra caffeine. But his plan was to sell it to affluent Europeans.
Mateschitz thought Red Bull could be a drink for the elite, young, and adventurous with money to burn.
He put it in slim aluminium can, priced it at a premium, and built a strategy. It was a huge risk.
In 1987, Red Bull debuted in Austria.
Despite resistance to the price, Mateschitz engineered social proof for Red Bull by giving many free samples to ski resorts & clubs.
The image they created was “the drink for high-flyers and fun-lovers in Europe”.
Red Bull expanded to new countries in the 90s. But they had a problem: the drink category they helped create was a lot more crowded.
But they decided to stick with their winning social proof strategy.
Once again, Red Bull skipped traditional ads in favor of seeding social proof: bringing free product to upscale bars and clubs, and leaving cans with trendy DJs.
Legend has it, Red Bull stuffed trash cans near cool bars and clubs with empty cans, even leaving crushed ones near doors.
However those bins were filled, Red Bull’s blue-and-silver cans became seen as the essential byproduct of a great night out.
This built a powerful idea that Red Bull was the drink of choice for the young and glamorous party crowd.
Social proof works because we trust peers infinitely more than marketers.
Cans in the right hands is proof of quality to customers…even if it defies logic.
Red Bull always knew their brand’s value was about their audience.
And since the success of that pivotal 90s push, they’ve doubled down.
Here’s how the world’s #1 energy drink STILL grows by double digits using social proof:
Red Bull started throwing their own parties.
Exclusive, exciting events from DJ sets to extreme sports celebrations and insane derbies.
Each one is fun, thrilling, and wild. There’s also an implicit endorsement by attendees, and many free samples.
Red Bull did influencer marketing from the beginning, even before social media.
To this day, they still engage student “Marketeers” to share Red Bull with their peers, often by driving around in the iconic can car.
Aside from sparking viral moments with mind-blowing publicity stunts, Red Bull also seeds new creation with initiatives like their Illume contest.
This gives them a huge library of user-created, on-brand content to showcase on social and at IRL events.
The conclusion? Red Bull is basically a genius marketing agency that happens to make energy drinks.
Credit: Daniel Murray & Elena Papaxenophontos