Niche Branding: A Bunch of (Red) Bull?

I?m an advocate of niche marketing ? but this may be taking it too far.

According to an article in BusinessWeek (3/14/05, p. 14), companies in the ?energy drink? market ? highly caffeinated beverages selling for $2 a can ? are competing with Red Bull, which owns a 60% market share, by appealing to niches.

But the idea of an ?energy drink? for some of these niches seems — to me, anyway — to be an oxymoron.

For instance, a drink called BAWLS Gurana targets video game players. Well, my kids play these video games for hours on an end. And I can tell you that very little physical energy is required.

Then there?s Bong Water, aimed at marijuana smokers. How much energy does it take to sit around, smoke weed, and get stoned?

A third beverage, Kaballah Energy Drink, targets Jewish mysticism. I?m Jewish ? but why either Jews or mystics need their own energy drink is way beyond me.

I know nothing about branding. So let me ask you branding folks out there:

Isn?t a brand supposed to make a logical connection with the beliefs, desires, and character of the market it targets?

Or is that totally irrelevant in today?s brave new world of hip and trendy marketing?


26 thoughts on “Niche Branding: A Bunch of (Red) Bull?

  • Bob, as you often do, you have sniffed out what seems to be some serious bull 🙂

    Seriously, while I don’t for a minute believe you know nothing about branding, the fact is: brands are as much a construct of the consumer as they are the company that creates them. As marketers, we try to create something that will resonate with our consumer, but in the end, if the need and the desire aren’t really there, it’s just crap. For it to work, it has to be about something the consumer actually wants.

    And I’m with you. My guess is, the last thing a bunch of college kids sitting around a bong are going to think about is which special high energy drink is the best one for me 🙂

  • Gee, I don’t know. If someone came out with a Copywriter Power Shake, I might try it — once. Niche marketing is that powerful.

    Over the long term, however, no marketing campaign can MAKE a customer. If a niche group doesn’t need or desire a product, they won’t continue to buy it. So if you’re niche marketing snow shovels to Texans, or fly swatters to Alaskans, you’re in for some lean times.

  • Danny, I am puzzled by your comment. This blog entry is not a diatribe against branding or branding people. It is an observation about a specific branding strategy that in my opinion does not work because it is not accurately linked to the product. And I stand by it: no one who sits around and plays video games needs a caffeine boost to do so.

  • Bob, “need” is a very strong word and has little to no applicability to the consumers of these beverages. Who “needs” a Red Bull? Nobody. A more interesting direction would be looking at the history of Red Bull, and seeing that a (I beleive) French businessman originally bought the rights and the recipe to the drink from a small asian manufacturer. He carbonated it and Americanized it in othe ways, and jacked the price from $.25 to $2.00 a can. Don’t beleive me? Go to a local Asian market and look for a half-sized, golden (can color) flat of cans. They’ll have the same Red bull logo, and a suprisingly similar taste – at $5.00 for the whole flat! Some would say he wasn’t much of a genius, just a simple businessman… but if that was the case, you wouldn’t see all these other brands tripping over themselves trying to come out with quite literally “the next red bull”. BAWLS has been around for a long time and actually has direct roots in the LAN Party scene, where videogamers congregate and play PC games for 18+ hour cycles, nonstop. But as for the rest of these, they are very much in that “me too” segment… Monster, Rockstar, all of these drinks are very much picking up the loose ends of the Red Bull fallout.

  • Peter, you probably know the same story applies to Coke: it was originally formulated by a pharmacist selling it as a health elixir; a businessman bought the rights and began selling it as a soft drink.

  • A brand image is the sub total of customer’s experiences at every point of contact they have with the product or service. You don’t build a niche by virtue of a name but rather by filling a need or want in a niche group. It is entirely possible that a name can be inappropriate for a target niche but on the flip side, a name doesn’t dictate the target.

    Remember the SNL product, Painful Rectal Itch? What niche do you suppose THAT was for? A name can help define what niche target you can win by it’s inappropriate nature. If it was a product aimed at 50 – 70 year olds living in middle America, my guess is that it would fail. Especially if it is a juice drink. Aim it at teens or 20 something’s with sick humor and it might work.

    I’m not sure the names you mentioned above are too narrow, if they are indeed aiming at the niche that the product name indicates (which isn’t a given as stated above). However, if they didn’t do research to discover the size of the market or if it’s easily reachable, then I may take issue with it. Marketing and Branding is much more than promotion – remember the other 3 p’s? If the overall marketing strategy is well executed, they should succeed whether we can relate to the name or not.

    That’s my take on it..

  • Branding is at it’s best when it related directly and specifically to the product or service it’s applied to. Since branding is about reputation, it therefore must pertain to what is being sold. If I buy a Ford truck, it’s because I believe in the reputation, the quality and perhaps some intangible connection I feel with the company. I believe in the BRAND of Ford. I rely on branding to help me answer the question, “can I trust this product or company?” without having to do a ton of research every time I make a buying decision. Good branding HELPS customers and therefore it helps the companies who serve them. The “energy drink branding” you write about is NOT what I call good branding. Hip, cool, trendy, maybe (if I’m a hip, cool, corporate marketing type). But to me it insults the consumer because it says “You should buy this because it’s cool” not because it fills a need or want they may have (unless all they want is to be “cool” and they believe consuming this product will make it happen.) No thanks!

  • I found your brand marketing related comments while conducting background research for an experiment on the precise effects of Red Bull on computer gaming ability. This won’t be the 1st experiment of its type, but a follow up. “functional energy drinks”, a group of products to which red bull and ‘bawls’ both belong, don’t simply claim to enhance physical energy in the traditional sense in which you obviously understand it. They claim to enhance reaction times, help keep people awake for prolonged periods (MORE necessary in situations where people sit relatively still for a long time), and may enhance CHOICE reaction times (relevant to the speed vs accuracy trade-off). Initial results indicate red bull significantly improves computer game performance as measured by score. And as you know something about marketing, you know computer games, and all related to them, are big business indeed. Red Bull are now sponsoring many gaming events, desperate to horn in on this niche market too. Changed your opinion on targeting gamer’s with energy drinks yet?- you will.

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