Millennials need emotional connection, says former Red Bull director

Heide Cohu, who worked as global brand communications and media house director at Red Bull for seven years, has revealed experiences with an emotional connection should be at the heart of any brand when targeting millennial consumers.

Bacardi's Heide Cohu discusses millennials at Imagination
Bacardi's Heide Cohu discusses millennials at Imagination

Cohu spoke at Imagination’s Storydoing event yesterday (16 October) about her work on Red Bull’s Stratos project, which saw Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner take part in a record-breaking, supersonic free-fall from the edge of space in 2012.

Cohu, who has since gone on to work at Bacardi Global Brands as global brand communications and creative director, said about the Red Bull project: "It was incredibly taxing, lots of stress and bureaucracy with NASA and other stakeholders. But what got us through was the 1,000% determination from Red Bull’s founder Dietrich [Mateschitz] to get this done."

She added millennial audiences were at the heart of Red Bull’s activations during her time there, and as a result, consumers valued the brand through experiences. "It’s not about getting a brand better known, it’s about getting a brand product wanted and Red Bull spent very little on product promotion – less on the efficacy and more on the emotional connection."

Cohu went on to explain that Red Bull, which operates its own events in fields such as air racing, motorsports, skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing, didn’t initially choose to be a sports specialist.

"Mateschitz has a deep, blue-chip understanding of what consumers want," she explained. "He started off with sampling, and then moved onto the tagline of ‘Red Bull gives you wings’, integrating it at events and then creating the brand's own events.

"When I joined the brand in the mid-2000s, video and social media sharing platforms exploded, and it was suddenly not about selling soft drinks or even hosting events but building a media empire. In the last few years Red Bull has been really concerned about building a media house, and all of what they do now – including the events that they build – serves to build engagement and experience. Not in the traditional way, but like the five years that we worked on Red Bull Stratos we shared a lot of content. The experience translated in so many different ways and various touchpoints."

Cohu said with her work at Bacardi to target millennials through experiences has required tough people who understand the concept and to be on her side. "Our incredibly supportive CMO Andy Gibson believed in the same approach. You need people on your side to get that."

As a result, Cohu said the brand has developed its passion platform, which has seen various experiences launched under Bacardi's drink brands. These include Martini in racing, space with Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire with film and Bacardi and music, with the latter coming to life in the form of a four-day festival in Puerto Rico.

"This is completely new to our network," she explained. "But it's about creating engagement through content. The results are thankfully beginning to show: Martini has been in decline for nearly 15 years, but for the first time in all the markets where it has activated in racing it's suddenly turned around. It's allowed us to bring to life the emotional, heart of the brand that we are selling."

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