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Episode
281

The Story of Red Bull

Jul 19, 2022
Business
-
18
minutes

It's the world's most popular energy drink, and it all came from a lucky meeting between a Thai businessman and a tired Austrian toothpaste salesman.

In this episode, we'll explore the fascinating history of the drink that "gives you wings".

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Red Bull. 

[00:00:27] It is the most famous energy drink in the world, and its origin is…unlikely.

[00:00:32] In this episode we’ll meet a toothpaste salesman, Thai boxers, bull semen, trips to space, Formula 1, American lawsuits, and nightclubs. 

[00:00:44] It is an amazing story, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:00:49] OK then, The Story of Red Bull.

[00:00:52] I should start this episode with just a little disclaimer, and that is that this episode is in no way sponsored by or affiliated with Red Bull.

[00:01:03] In fact, I hate the taste of Red Bull, but I do like the story.

[00:01:08] And our story, the story of Red Bull, starts in 1987, with a 43-year-old Austrian toothpaste salesman.

[00:01:19] His name was Dietrich Mateschitz, and in 1987 he travelled to Thailand on business. 

[00:01:26] He was the marketing director of a German toothpaste brand called Blendax and he was meeting with a Thai businessman who wanted to make a deal to arrange the import of this German toothpaste. 

[00:01:40] Mateschitz was experiencing jet lag, he was feeling tired from his flight and the time difference, so he drank a bottle of a local energy drink. 

[00:01:52] This super sweet drink was called Krating Daeng, and it had a logo of two red bulls facing each other. 

[00:02:01] Sound familiar? 

[00:02:02] The man felt a boost of energy, his jet lag was cured, but more importantly, he had an idea.

[00:02:10] But before he could spend much time thinking about this idea, he had a meeting to get to.

[00:02:16] The meeting was with a man called Chaleo Yoovidhya, who just happened to be the inventor of that super sweet energy drink Mateschitz had drunk earlier.

[00:02:27] Mateschitz was intrigued

[00:02:29] He was suddenly more interested in this drink than selling toothpaste, which was the reason he was in Thailand in the first place.

[00:02:37] A tad ironic, a bit funny, perhaps? Going somewhere for toothpaste, but staying for a sugary, sweet drink. 

[00:02:45] Before we proceed with what our Austrian toothpaste salesman, Mateschitz, did next, we need to know a bit more about the man he was meeting, Chaleo Yoovidhya.

[00:02:56] He was 21 years older than Mateschitz, and had had a very different childhood and upbringing.

[00:03:03] He barely had any formal education, he rarely went to school and started working when he was a very young man, practically still a boy.

[00:03:13] At first, he worked with his parents. 

[00:03:16] Very soon, he moved to Bangkok and started selling medicinal products, he was an antibiotics salesman to begin with. 

[00:03:25] After proving his sales ability, he started his own company, TC Pharmaceuticals, in the early 1960s.

[00:03:34] The year of his life that is crucial, or most important for our story, however, will be 1976.

[00:03:42] That was when he placed a new drink on the market, after having, what he himself has said was “a stroke of divine inspiration”, that is, he suddenly felt inspired, as if some invisible source helped him.

[00:03:58] Yoovidhya created a drink that consisted of water, sugar, taurine, caffeine, vitamin B and inositol, which is another type of sugar. 

[00:04:10] It was initially sold in pharmacies, and it boasted a picture of two red bulls fighting with horns. 

[00:04:19] It was called Krating Daeng, which literally means ’’red bull’’, like the image on the logo. 

[00:04:26] A little trivia, a little fun fact is that the animal on the logo is not actually a bull, it’s something called a gaur, which is a bull-like animal also known as an Indian bison.

[00:04:39] This animal is the symbol for Thailand, it is the fifth largest land animal in the world and interestingly enough, it is not famous for fighting. 

[00:04:49] Gaurs have no natural enemies, because they’re so big, and when it comes to the mating season, the biggest male gets the female of his choice - they don’t fight like deer, or other animals.

[00:05:03] Anyway, let’s get back to our Thai drink. 

[00:05:07] When it first launched, it mainly targeted the working class in Thailand, factory workers and drivers who were having to work increasingly long hours.

[00:05:18] This new drink, Krating Daeng, was affordable, it was cheap, and it would give them a quick energy boost.

[00:05:27] While you might have thought it was an immediate hit, it actually wasn’t.

[00:05:33] As will become a theme throughout the history of Red Bull, it needed some cunning marketing to get people hooked on the drink.

[00:05:43] This hook, this reason to drink Red Bull, came from an unlikely source. 

[00:05:49] Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing.

[00:05:52] It was only when Krating Daeng started to sponsor Muay Thai boxing rings, and to get the fighters to drink it, that the drink’s popularity started to grow.

[00:06:03] As more and more people saw it and tried it for the first time, they became aware of its restorative properties, of the fact that it does give you a bit of an energy boost.

[00:06:15] It became popular with truck drivers, who realised that it helped them drive longer and with more focus. 

[00:06:23] Soon after, the popularity of this Thai Red Bull skyrocketed, it became very famous and successful, and that is when Dietrich Mateschitz enters our story.

[00:06:35] Chaleo Yoovidhya, thanks to his invention, was now a rich man, and his company had started doing international business, which is why he thought of importing this German toothpaste. 

[00:06:49] He was a pharmacist by trade, so it does sort of make sense.

[00:06:54] When the Austrian toothpaste salesman Mateschitz met Yoovidhya, supposedly to talk about exporting toothpaste to Thailand, the conversation quickly turned to bringing another product back to Europe. 

[00:07:07] Krating Daeng.

[00:07:08] But Mateschitz knew that some changes would be necessary to make it appeal to European tastes. 

[00:07:15] The drink Mateschitz had drunk was like a very sweet cough syrup, cough medicine. 

[00:07:22] Mateschitz decided to make the drink fizzy–the original Thai version was not–and to make it taste more like other Western carbonated drinks, Coca Cola, Sprite, Fanta, and those sorts of things.

[00:07:38] The pair formed a partnership, with each investing half a million dollars.

[00:07:44] Each would get a 49% share in the company, with the remaining 2% going to Yoovidhya’s son.

[00:07:52] The name of the European drink would be a direct translation of Krating Daeng. Its name would be, of course, Red Bull.

[00:08:01] The first product was launched on April 1st 1987. 

[00:08:05] But there was a lot of work to do to make Europeans start guzzling down Red Bull.

[00:08:12] Energy drinks were not a thing in Europe back then, they were not a popular choice of beverage, and there was no market for the product.

[00:08:21] But Mateschitz, being an advertising expert, realised that he had to create a market for the product, he knew that he needed to make people believe that they needed Red Bull in their life.

[00:08:35] He teamed up with Rauch, a famous can packaging company, and together they created this tall, blue and silver can with distinctive red bulls that would become the signature style for Red Bull all over the world.

[00:08:50] In Europe, unlike in its home market of Thailand, Red Bull would be a premium drink, more expensive than other soft drinks, something for people to aspire to.

[00:09:02] But turning Red Bull into an aspirational brand and product would require some creativity, some thinking out of the box.

[00:09:13] For Red Bull, this came in the form of associating Red Bull with intense activity - fast cars, extreme sports, and nightclubs.

[00:09:24] The drink might have been positioned in Thailand as a way for truck drivers to keep driving or workers to stay awake, but in Europe it was a way for extreme sports junkies to get a rush or for clubbers to stay awake dancing into the night.

[00:09:42] Recently, Red Bull even entered the world of gaming, targeting video gamers as their new consumer group.

[00:09:50] And Red Bull has, for many people, become more famous for its marketing stunts and tactics than the energy drink, even breaking world records in the process.

[00:10:02] You may remember the name Felix Baumgartner. 

[00:10:06] He is an Austrian daredevil, an extreme sports professional, and on October 14th of 2012, as part of Red Bull’s Stratos project, he jumped out of a balloon from the edge of space, 39km above the Earth’s surface, and travelled at up to 1,357 km per hour before returning safely to Earth.

[00:10:31] This stunt, this sending Baumgartner to space, cost Red Bull an estimated $65 million to do, but it created huge exposure for the brand, with some experts suggesting that the value gained from it could be worth up to $6 billion. 

[00:10:51] So Red Bull obviously thought it was worth it.

[00:10:54] And this is the exact strategy of Red Bull, how it has turned a simple energy drink into a global phenomenon.

[00:11:03] It sponsors all manner of extreme and dangerous sports, from Formula One to BMX cycling, cliff jumping, flying, skiing, and skateboarding.

[00:11:15] Through the years, Red Bull as a company has expanded into several areas and today it owns six football teams, two esports teams, two Formula One teams, a NASCAR team and an ice-hockey team. 

[00:11:29] It also owns a travel agency, a clothing brand, a career-finding website, a television channel, a record label, and a sponsorship business which supports a whooping ninety different sports.

[00:11:42] Oh, and of course, it also owns the drink, which is still the major source of revenue for the company.

[00:11:49] But, what does Red Bull actually make? 

[00:11:52] The answer is simple: Nothing, really. 

[00:11:55] There are no Red Bull drink-making factories, or clothes-making factories, or music-making studios.

[00:12:02] The Red Bull drinks are made by partner factories.

[00:12:07] Red Bull the company is essentially a marketing, sponsorship and media company with one overriding objective: to strengthen the Red Bull brand.

[00:12:18] And it is now a very strong brand indeed, with estimates valuing it at around $15 billion.

[00:12:26] The slogan of Red Bull is one you may well know. 

[00:12:30] Unlike some companies, which change their slogans depending on cultural differences, the Red Bull slogan is the same everywhere: “it gives you wings”.

[00:12:40] Figurative wings, of course, it’s not claiming that you’ll get real wings, but it might surprise you to find out that this slogan, this claim that it would “give you wings” did actually get Red Bull in trouble, and it led to a lawsuit.

[00:12:56] An American citizen and Red Bull drinker, a man called Benjamin Careathers, sued the company back in 2013 for dishonesty, for not being honest with the claim that it would ‘’give you wings’’.

[00:13:10] Now, he didn’t sue Red Bull because he didn’t actually grow wings, that would be ridiculous, but his claim was that Red Bull drinks didn’t give as much energy as they claimed they did.

[00:13:23] He won the case because his lawyers proved that a can of the drink has less caffeine than an average cup of coffee, so it was misleading to claim it gives you so much energy.

[00:13:35] What did he get out of it, you might be thinking? 

[00:13:37] Millions of dollars in compensation? A lifetime supply of Red Bull? A private tour of the Red Bull offices? To go on the next skydive with Felix Baumgartner?

[00:13:47] Nope, he got $10 in compensation.

[00:13:51] But the interesting fact about this lawsuit is that the judge ruled that every person who had bought a can of Red Bull in America in the twelve years prior to, before the case, could fill in a form and could also claim the same $10 in compensation from Red Bull.

[00:14:10] There were fears that this would lead to Red Bull having to pay out almost thirteen million dollars in compensation payments, but very few people actually took up this offer, and the deadline has now expired

[00:14:24] And of course, the slogan hasn’t changed.

[00:14:27] But this wouldn’t be the last of Red Bull’s difficulties, and in fact there have been plenty of claims over the years that Red Bull gives you too much energy, that it is a dangerous drink.

[00:14:40] In 2000, a student called Ross Cooney died during a basketball match after drinking three cans of Red Bull, and this triggered fear and outrage, with several countries, including France, banning the sale of the original Red Bull.

[00:14:57] I should say that there have been many experiments and investigations that Red Bull is safe to drink in normal amounts, but–like almost anything–if you drink litres of it and especially if you combine it with lots of alcohol, well, it can be problematic.

[00:15:15] One other interesting and unfortunate difficulty that Red Bull got itself into was related to bull semen, the male reproductive fluid.

[00:15:26] One of the ingredients in Red Bull was something called taurine.

[00:15:31] There were claims that this taurine ingredient was taken from bull semen, which would obviously be quite disturbing if it were true, but–just in case you have heard this claim and weren’t sure whether it was true–it’s not. 

[00:15:47] Taurine is something that exists in practically every animal, including humans, and the taurine used in drinks like Red Bull is synthesised, it is made synthetically, with absolutely no bull semen being used.

[00:16:02] For all of its legal difficulties and problems getting people to believe it is safe to drink, Red Bull has turned into a multi-billion dollar brand, with an estimated 10 billion cans of the stuff sold every year.

[00:16:18] It owns Formula One Teams, sends people to space, has its own planes, runs music festivals, holds skydiving championships and even has its own TV channel.

[00:16:30] And lest we forget, it also controls the most successful energy drink in the world.

[00:16:36] And to think, it all came from a tired Austrian toothpaste salesman trying to get over his jet lag.

[00:16:45] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Red Bull.

[00:16:49] Whether you are an avid Red Bull drinker, or you can’t stand the smell of the stuff, well I hope it was a fun one and you learned something new.

[00:16:58] As always, I would love to know your thoughts about this episode. Are you a big Red Bull fan?

[00:17:04] What is Red Bull associated with in your country?

[00:17:07] Have you tried Krating Daeng, the original Thai version?

[00:17:10] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:17:14] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com, and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:17:23] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:17:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Red Bull. 

[00:00:27] It is the most famous energy drink in the world, and its origin is…unlikely.

[00:00:32] In this episode we’ll meet a toothpaste salesman, Thai boxers, bull semen, trips to space, Formula 1, American lawsuits, and nightclubs. 

[00:00:44] It is an amazing story, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:00:49] OK then, The Story of Red Bull.

[00:00:52] I should start this episode with just a little disclaimer, and that is that this episode is in no way sponsored by or affiliated with Red Bull.

[00:01:03] In fact, I hate the taste of Red Bull, but I do like the story.

[00:01:08] And our story, the story of Red Bull, starts in 1987, with a 43-year-old Austrian toothpaste salesman.

[00:01:19] His name was Dietrich Mateschitz, and in 1987 he travelled to Thailand on business. 

[00:01:26] He was the marketing director of a German toothpaste brand called Blendax and he was meeting with a Thai businessman who wanted to make a deal to arrange the import of this German toothpaste. 

[00:01:40] Mateschitz was experiencing jet lag, he was feeling tired from his flight and the time difference, so he drank a bottle of a local energy drink. 

[00:01:52] This super sweet drink was called Krating Daeng, and it had a logo of two red bulls facing each other. 

[00:02:01] Sound familiar? 

[00:02:02] The man felt a boost of energy, his jet lag was cured, but more importantly, he had an idea.

[00:02:10] But before he could spend much time thinking about this idea, he had a meeting to get to.

[00:02:16] The meeting was with a man called Chaleo Yoovidhya, who just happened to be the inventor of that super sweet energy drink Mateschitz had drunk earlier.

[00:02:27] Mateschitz was intrigued

[00:02:29] He was suddenly more interested in this drink than selling toothpaste, which was the reason he was in Thailand in the first place.

[00:02:37] A tad ironic, a bit funny, perhaps? Going somewhere for toothpaste, but staying for a sugary, sweet drink. 

[00:02:45] Before we proceed with what our Austrian toothpaste salesman, Mateschitz, did next, we need to know a bit more about the man he was meeting, Chaleo Yoovidhya.

[00:02:56] He was 21 years older than Mateschitz, and had had a very different childhood and upbringing.

[00:03:03] He barely had any formal education, he rarely went to school and started working when he was a very young man, practically still a boy.

[00:03:13] At first, he worked with his parents. 

[00:03:16] Very soon, he moved to Bangkok and started selling medicinal products, he was an antibiotics salesman to begin with. 

[00:03:25] After proving his sales ability, he started his own company, TC Pharmaceuticals, in the early 1960s.

[00:03:34] The year of his life that is crucial, or most important for our story, however, will be 1976.

[00:03:42] That was when he placed a new drink on the market, after having, what he himself has said was “a stroke of divine inspiration”, that is, he suddenly felt inspired, as if some invisible source helped him.

[00:03:58] Yoovidhya created a drink that consisted of water, sugar, taurine, caffeine, vitamin B and inositol, which is another type of sugar. 

[00:04:10] It was initially sold in pharmacies, and it boasted a picture of two red bulls fighting with horns. 

[00:04:19] It was called Krating Daeng, which literally means ’’red bull’’, like the image on the logo. 

[00:04:26] A little trivia, a little fun fact is that the animal on the logo is not actually a bull, it’s something called a gaur, which is a bull-like animal also known as an Indian bison.

[00:04:39] This animal is the symbol for Thailand, it is the fifth largest land animal in the world and interestingly enough, it is not famous for fighting. 

[00:04:49] Gaurs have no natural enemies, because they’re so big, and when it comes to the mating season, the biggest male gets the female of his choice - they don’t fight like deer, or other animals.

[00:05:03] Anyway, let’s get back to our Thai drink. 

[00:05:07] When it first launched, it mainly targeted the working class in Thailand, factory workers and drivers who were having to work increasingly long hours.

[00:05:18] This new drink, Krating Daeng, was affordable, it was cheap, and it would give them a quick energy boost.

[00:05:27] While you might have thought it was an immediate hit, it actually wasn’t.

[00:05:33] As will become a theme throughout the history of Red Bull, it needed some cunning marketing to get people hooked on the drink.

[00:05:43] This hook, this reason to drink Red Bull, came from an unlikely source. 

[00:05:49] Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing.

[00:05:52] It was only when Krating Daeng started to sponsor Muay Thai boxing rings, and to get the fighters to drink it, that the drink’s popularity started to grow.

[00:06:03] As more and more people saw it and tried it for the first time, they became aware of its restorative properties, of the fact that it does give you a bit of an energy boost.

[00:06:15] It became popular with truck drivers, who realised that it helped them drive longer and with more focus. 

[00:06:23] Soon after, the popularity of this Thai Red Bull skyrocketed, it became very famous and successful, and that is when Dietrich Mateschitz enters our story.

[00:06:35] Chaleo Yoovidhya, thanks to his invention, was now a rich man, and his company had started doing international business, which is why he thought of importing this German toothpaste. 

[00:06:49] He was a pharmacist by trade, so it does sort of make sense.

[00:06:54] When the Austrian toothpaste salesman Mateschitz met Yoovidhya, supposedly to talk about exporting toothpaste to Thailand, the conversation quickly turned to bringing another product back to Europe. 

[00:07:07] Krating Daeng.

[00:07:08] But Mateschitz knew that some changes would be necessary to make it appeal to European tastes. 

[00:07:15] The drink Mateschitz had drunk was like a very sweet cough syrup, cough medicine. 

[00:07:22] Mateschitz decided to make the drink fizzy–the original Thai version was not–and to make it taste more like other Western carbonated drinks, Coca Cola, Sprite, Fanta, and those sorts of things.

[00:07:38] The pair formed a partnership, with each investing half a million dollars.

[00:07:44] Each would get a 49% share in the company, with the remaining 2% going to Yoovidhya’s son.

[00:07:52] The name of the European drink would be a direct translation of Krating Daeng. Its name would be, of course, Red Bull.

[00:08:01] The first product was launched on April 1st 1987. 

[00:08:05] But there was a lot of work to do to make Europeans start guzzling down Red Bull.

[00:08:12] Energy drinks were not a thing in Europe back then, they were not a popular choice of beverage, and there was no market for the product.

[00:08:21] But Mateschitz, being an advertising expert, realised that he had to create a market for the product, he knew that he needed to make people believe that they needed Red Bull in their life.

[00:08:35] He teamed up with Rauch, a famous can packaging company, and together they created this tall, blue and silver can with distinctive red bulls that would become the signature style for Red Bull all over the world.

[00:08:50] In Europe, unlike in its home market of Thailand, Red Bull would be a premium drink, more expensive than other soft drinks, something for people to aspire to.

[00:09:02] But turning Red Bull into an aspirational brand and product would require some creativity, some thinking out of the box.

[00:09:13] For Red Bull, this came in the form of associating Red Bull with intense activity - fast cars, extreme sports, and nightclubs.

[00:09:24] The drink might have been positioned in Thailand as a way for truck drivers to keep driving or workers to stay awake, but in Europe it was a way for extreme sports junkies to get a rush or for clubbers to stay awake dancing into the night.

[00:09:42] Recently, Red Bull even entered the world of gaming, targeting video gamers as their new consumer group.

[00:09:50] And Red Bull has, for many people, become more famous for its marketing stunts and tactics than the energy drink, even breaking world records in the process.

[00:10:02] You may remember the name Felix Baumgartner. 

[00:10:06] He is an Austrian daredevil, an extreme sports professional, and on October 14th of 2012, as part of Red Bull’s Stratos project, he jumped out of a balloon from the edge of space, 39km above the Earth’s surface, and travelled at up to 1,357 km per hour before returning safely to Earth.

[00:10:31] This stunt, this sending Baumgartner to space, cost Red Bull an estimated $65 million to do, but it created huge exposure for the brand, with some experts suggesting that the value gained from it could be worth up to $6 billion. 

[00:10:51] So Red Bull obviously thought it was worth it.

[00:10:54] And this is the exact strategy of Red Bull, how it has turned a simple energy drink into a global phenomenon.

[00:11:03] It sponsors all manner of extreme and dangerous sports, from Formula One to BMX cycling, cliff jumping, flying, skiing, and skateboarding.

[00:11:15] Through the years, Red Bull as a company has expanded into several areas and today it owns six football teams, two esports teams, two Formula One teams, a NASCAR team and an ice-hockey team. 

[00:11:29] It also owns a travel agency, a clothing brand, a career-finding website, a television channel, a record label, and a sponsorship business which supports a whooping ninety different sports.

[00:11:42] Oh, and of course, it also owns the drink, which is still the major source of revenue for the company.

[00:11:49] But, what does Red Bull actually make? 

[00:11:52] The answer is simple: Nothing, really. 

[00:11:55] There are no Red Bull drink-making factories, or clothes-making factories, or music-making studios.

[00:12:02] The Red Bull drinks are made by partner factories.

[00:12:07] Red Bull the company is essentially a marketing, sponsorship and media company with one overriding objective: to strengthen the Red Bull brand.

[00:12:18] And it is now a very strong brand indeed, with estimates valuing it at around $15 billion.

[00:12:26] The slogan of Red Bull is one you may well know. 

[00:12:30] Unlike some companies, which change their slogans depending on cultural differences, the Red Bull slogan is the same everywhere: “it gives you wings”.

[00:12:40] Figurative wings, of course, it’s not claiming that you’ll get real wings, but it might surprise you to find out that this slogan, this claim that it would “give you wings” did actually get Red Bull in trouble, and it led to a lawsuit.

[00:12:56] An American citizen and Red Bull drinker, a man called Benjamin Careathers, sued the company back in 2013 for dishonesty, for not being honest with the claim that it would ‘’give you wings’’.

[00:13:10] Now, he didn’t sue Red Bull because he didn’t actually grow wings, that would be ridiculous, but his claim was that Red Bull drinks didn’t give as much energy as they claimed they did.

[00:13:23] He won the case because his lawyers proved that a can of the drink has less caffeine than an average cup of coffee, so it was misleading to claim it gives you so much energy.

[00:13:35] What did he get out of it, you might be thinking? 

[00:13:37] Millions of dollars in compensation? A lifetime supply of Red Bull? A private tour of the Red Bull offices? To go on the next skydive with Felix Baumgartner?

[00:13:47] Nope, he got $10 in compensation.

[00:13:51] But the interesting fact about this lawsuit is that the judge ruled that every person who had bought a can of Red Bull in America in the twelve years prior to, before the case, could fill in a form and could also claim the same $10 in compensation from Red Bull.

[00:14:10] There were fears that this would lead to Red Bull having to pay out almost thirteen million dollars in compensation payments, but very few people actually took up this offer, and the deadline has now expired

[00:14:24] And of course, the slogan hasn’t changed.

[00:14:27] But this wouldn’t be the last of Red Bull’s difficulties, and in fact there have been plenty of claims over the years that Red Bull gives you too much energy, that it is a dangerous drink.

[00:14:40] In 2000, a student called Ross Cooney died during a basketball match after drinking three cans of Red Bull, and this triggered fear and outrage, with several countries, including France, banning the sale of the original Red Bull.

[00:14:57] I should say that there have been many experiments and investigations that Red Bull is safe to drink in normal amounts, but–like almost anything–if you drink litres of it and especially if you combine it with lots of alcohol, well, it can be problematic.

[00:15:15] One other interesting and unfortunate difficulty that Red Bull got itself into was related to bull semen, the male reproductive fluid.

[00:15:26] One of the ingredients in Red Bull was something called taurine.

[00:15:31] There were claims that this taurine ingredient was taken from bull semen, which would obviously be quite disturbing if it were true, but–just in case you have heard this claim and weren’t sure whether it was true–it’s not. 

[00:15:47] Taurine is something that exists in practically every animal, including humans, and the taurine used in drinks like Red Bull is synthesised, it is made synthetically, with absolutely no bull semen being used.

[00:16:02] For all of its legal difficulties and problems getting people to believe it is safe to drink, Red Bull has turned into a multi-billion dollar brand, with an estimated 10 billion cans of the stuff sold every year.

[00:16:18] It owns Formula One Teams, sends people to space, has its own planes, runs music festivals, holds skydiving championships and even has its own TV channel.

[00:16:30] And lest we forget, it also controls the most successful energy drink in the world.

[00:16:36] And to think, it all came from a tired Austrian toothpaste salesman trying to get over his jet lag.

[00:16:45] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Red Bull.

[00:16:49] Whether you are an avid Red Bull drinker, or you can’t stand the smell of the stuff, well I hope it was a fun one and you learned something new.

[00:16:58] As always, I would love to know your thoughts about this episode. Are you a big Red Bull fan?

[00:17:04] What is Red Bull associated with in your country?

[00:17:07] Have you tried Krating Daeng, the original Thai version?

[00:17:10] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:17:14] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com, and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:17:23] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:17:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Red Bull. 

[00:00:27] It is the most famous energy drink in the world, and its origin is…unlikely.

[00:00:32] In this episode we’ll meet a toothpaste salesman, Thai boxers, bull semen, trips to space, Formula 1, American lawsuits, and nightclubs. 

[00:00:44] It is an amazing story, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:00:49] OK then, The Story of Red Bull.

[00:00:52] I should start this episode with just a little disclaimer, and that is that this episode is in no way sponsored by or affiliated with Red Bull.

[00:01:03] In fact, I hate the taste of Red Bull, but I do like the story.

[00:01:08] And our story, the story of Red Bull, starts in 1987, with a 43-year-old Austrian toothpaste salesman.

[00:01:19] His name was Dietrich Mateschitz, and in 1987 he travelled to Thailand on business. 

[00:01:26] He was the marketing director of a German toothpaste brand called Blendax and he was meeting with a Thai businessman who wanted to make a deal to arrange the import of this German toothpaste. 

[00:01:40] Mateschitz was experiencing jet lag, he was feeling tired from his flight and the time difference, so he drank a bottle of a local energy drink. 

[00:01:52] This super sweet drink was called Krating Daeng, and it had a logo of two red bulls facing each other. 

[00:02:01] Sound familiar? 

[00:02:02] The man felt a boost of energy, his jet lag was cured, but more importantly, he had an idea.

[00:02:10] But before he could spend much time thinking about this idea, he had a meeting to get to.

[00:02:16] The meeting was with a man called Chaleo Yoovidhya, who just happened to be the inventor of that super sweet energy drink Mateschitz had drunk earlier.

[00:02:27] Mateschitz was intrigued

[00:02:29] He was suddenly more interested in this drink than selling toothpaste, which was the reason he was in Thailand in the first place.

[00:02:37] A tad ironic, a bit funny, perhaps? Going somewhere for toothpaste, but staying for a sugary, sweet drink. 

[00:02:45] Before we proceed with what our Austrian toothpaste salesman, Mateschitz, did next, we need to know a bit more about the man he was meeting, Chaleo Yoovidhya.

[00:02:56] He was 21 years older than Mateschitz, and had had a very different childhood and upbringing.

[00:03:03] He barely had any formal education, he rarely went to school and started working when he was a very young man, practically still a boy.

[00:03:13] At first, he worked with his parents. 

[00:03:16] Very soon, he moved to Bangkok and started selling medicinal products, he was an antibiotics salesman to begin with. 

[00:03:25] After proving his sales ability, he started his own company, TC Pharmaceuticals, in the early 1960s.

[00:03:34] The year of his life that is crucial, or most important for our story, however, will be 1976.

[00:03:42] That was when he placed a new drink on the market, after having, what he himself has said was “a stroke of divine inspiration”, that is, he suddenly felt inspired, as if some invisible source helped him.

[00:03:58] Yoovidhya created a drink that consisted of water, sugar, taurine, caffeine, vitamin B and inositol, which is another type of sugar. 

[00:04:10] It was initially sold in pharmacies, and it boasted a picture of two red bulls fighting with horns. 

[00:04:19] It was called Krating Daeng, which literally means ’’red bull’’, like the image on the logo. 

[00:04:26] A little trivia, a little fun fact is that the animal on the logo is not actually a bull, it’s something called a gaur, which is a bull-like animal also known as an Indian bison.

[00:04:39] This animal is the symbol for Thailand, it is the fifth largest land animal in the world and interestingly enough, it is not famous for fighting. 

[00:04:49] Gaurs have no natural enemies, because they’re so big, and when it comes to the mating season, the biggest male gets the female of his choice - they don’t fight like deer, or other animals.

[00:05:03] Anyway, let’s get back to our Thai drink. 

[00:05:07] When it first launched, it mainly targeted the working class in Thailand, factory workers and drivers who were having to work increasingly long hours.

[00:05:18] This new drink, Krating Daeng, was affordable, it was cheap, and it would give them a quick energy boost.

[00:05:27] While you might have thought it was an immediate hit, it actually wasn’t.

[00:05:33] As will become a theme throughout the history of Red Bull, it needed some cunning marketing to get people hooked on the drink.

[00:05:43] This hook, this reason to drink Red Bull, came from an unlikely source. 

[00:05:49] Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing.

[00:05:52] It was only when Krating Daeng started to sponsor Muay Thai boxing rings, and to get the fighters to drink it, that the drink’s popularity started to grow.

[00:06:03] As more and more people saw it and tried it for the first time, they became aware of its restorative properties, of the fact that it does give you a bit of an energy boost.

[00:06:15] It became popular with truck drivers, who realised that it helped them drive longer and with more focus. 

[00:06:23] Soon after, the popularity of this Thai Red Bull skyrocketed, it became very famous and successful, and that is when Dietrich Mateschitz enters our story.

[00:06:35] Chaleo Yoovidhya, thanks to his invention, was now a rich man, and his company had started doing international business, which is why he thought of importing this German toothpaste. 

[00:06:49] He was a pharmacist by trade, so it does sort of make sense.

[00:06:54] When the Austrian toothpaste salesman Mateschitz met Yoovidhya, supposedly to talk about exporting toothpaste to Thailand, the conversation quickly turned to bringing another product back to Europe. 

[00:07:07] Krating Daeng.

[00:07:08] But Mateschitz knew that some changes would be necessary to make it appeal to European tastes. 

[00:07:15] The drink Mateschitz had drunk was like a very sweet cough syrup, cough medicine. 

[00:07:22] Mateschitz decided to make the drink fizzy–the original Thai version was not–and to make it taste more like other Western carbonated drinks, Coca Cola, Sprite, Fanta, and those sorts of things.

[00:07:38] The pair formed a partnership, with each investing half a million dollars.

[00:07:44] Each would get a 49% share in the company, with the remaining 2% going to Yoovidhya’s son.

[00:07:52] The name of the European drink would be a direct translation of Krating Daeng. Its name would be, of course, Red Bull.

[00:08:01] The first product was launched on April 1st 1987. 

[00:08:05] But there was a lot of work to do to make Europeans start guzzling down Red Bull.

[00:08:12] Energy drinks were not a thing in Europe back then, they were not a popular choice of beverage, and there was no market for the product.

[00:08:21] But Mateschitz, being an advertising expert, realised that he had to create a market for the product, he knew that he needed to make people believe that they needed Red Bull in their life.

[00:08:35] He teamed up with Rauch, a famous can packaging company, and together they created this tall, blue and silver can with distinctive red bulls that would become the signature style for Red Bull all over the world.

[00:08:50] In Europe, unlike in its home market of Thailand, Red Bull would be a premium drink, more expensive than other soft drinks, something for people to aspire to.

[00:09:02] But turning Red Bull into an aspirational brand and product would require some creativity, some thinking out of the box.

[00:09:13] For Red Bull, this came in the form of associating Red Bull with intense activity - fast cars, extreme sports, and nightclubs.

[00:09:24] The drink might have been positioned in Thailand as a way for truck drivers to keep driving or workers to stay awake, but in Europe it was a way for extreme sports junkies to get a rush or for clubbers to stay awake dancing into the night.

[00:09:42] Recently, Red Bull even entered the world of gaming, targeting video gamers as their new consumer group.

[00:09:50] And Red Bull has, for many people, become more famous for its marketing stunts and tactics than the energy drink, even breaking world records in the process.

[00:10:02] You may remember the name Felix Baumgartner. 

[00:10:06] He is an Austrian daredevil, an extreme sports professional, and on October 14th of 2012, as part of Red Bull’s Stratos project, he jumped out of a balloon from the edge of space, 39km above the Earth’s surface, and travelled at up to 1,357 km per hour before returning safely to Earth.

[00:10:31] This stunt, this sending Baumgartner to space, cost Red Bull an estimated $65 million to do, but it created huge exposure for the brand, with some experts suggesting that the value gained from it could be worth up to $6 billion. 

[00:10:51] So Red Bull obviously thought it was worth it.

[00:10:54] And this is the exact strategy of Red Bull, how it has turned a simple energy drink into a global phenomenon.

[00:11:03] It sponsors all manner of extreme and dangerous sports, from Formula One to BMX cycling, cliff jumping, flying, skiing, and skateboarding.

[00:11:15] Through the years, Red Bull as a company has expanded into several areas and today it owns six football teams, two esports teams, two Formula One teams, a NASCAR team and an ice-hockey team. 

[00:11:29] It also owns a travel agency, a clothing brand, a career-finding website, a television channel, a record label, and a sponsorship business which supports a whooping ninety different sports.

[00:11:42] Oh, and of course, it also owns the drink, which is still the major source of revenue for the company.

[00:11:49] But, what does Red Bull actually make? 

[00:11:52] The answer is simple: Nothing, really. 

[00:11:55] There are no Red Bull drink-making factories, or clothes-making factories, or music-making studios.

[00:12:02] The Red Bull drinks are made by partner factories.

[00:12:07] Red Bull the company is essentially a marketing, sponsorship and media company with one overriding objective: to strengthen the Red Bull brand.

[00:12:18] And it is now a very strong brand indeed, with estimates valuing it at around $15 billion.

[00:12:26] The slogan of Red Bull is one you may well know. 

[00:12:30] Unlike some companies, which change their slogans depending on cultural differences, the Red Bull slogan is the same everywhere: “it gives you wings”.

[00:12:40] Figurative wings, of course, it’s not claiming that you’ll get real wings, but it might surprise you to find out that this slogan, this claim that it would “give you wings” did actually get Red Bull in trouble, and it led to a lawsuit.

[00:12:56] An American citizen and Red Bull drinker, a man called Benjamin Careathers, sued the company back in 2013 for dishonesty, for not being honest with the claim that it would ‘’give you wings’’.

[00:13:10] Now, he didn’t sue Red Bull because he didn’t actually grow wings, that would be ridiculous, but his claim was that Red Bull drinks didn’t give as much energy as they claimed they did.

[00:13:23] He won the case because his lawyers proved that a can of the drink has less caffeine than an average cup of coffee, so it was misleading to claim it gives you so much energy.

[00:13:35] What did he get out of it, you might be thinking? 

[00:13:37] Millions of dollars in compensation? A lifetime supply of Red Bull? A private tour of the Red Bull offices? To go on the next skydive with Felix Baumgartner?

[00:13:47] Nope, he got $10 in compensation.

[00:13:51] But the interesting fact about this lawsuit is that the judge ruled that every person who had bought a can of Red Bull in America in the twelve years prior to, before the case, could fill in a form and could also claim the same $10 in compensation from Red Bull.

[00:14:10] There were fears that this would lead to Red Bull having to pay out almost thirteen million dollars in compensation payments, but very few people actually took up this offer, and the deadline has now expired

[00:14:24] And of course, the slogan hasn’t changed.

[00:14:27] But this wouldn’t be the last of Red Bull’s difficulties, and in fact there have been plenty of claims over the years that Red Bull gives you too much energy, that it is a dangerous drink.

[00:14:40] In 2000, a student called Ross Cooney died during a basketball match after drinking three cans of Red Bull, and this triggered fear and outrage, with several countries, including France, banning the sale of the original Red Bull.

[00:14:57] I should say that there have been many experiments and investigations that Red Bull is safe to drink in normal amounts, but–like almost anything–if you drink litres of it and especially if you combine it with lots of alcohol, well, it can be problematic.

[00:15:15] One other interesting and unfortunate difficulty that Red Bull got itself into was related to bull semen, the male reproductive fluid.

[00:15:26] One of the ingredients in Red Bull was something called taurine.

[00:15:31] There were claims that this taurine ingredient was taken from bull semen, which would obviously be quite disturbing if it were true, but–just in case you have heard this claim and weren’t sure whether it was true–it’s not. 

[00:15:47] Taurine is something that exists in practically every animal, including humans, and the taurine used in drinks like Red Bull is synthesised, it is made synthetically, with absolutely no bull semen being used.

[00:16:02] For all of its legal difficulties and problems getting people to believe it is safe to drink, Red Bull has turned into a multi-billion dollar brand, with an estimated 10 billion cans of the stuff sold every year.

[00:16:18] It owns Formula One Teams, sends people to space, has its own planes, runs music festivals, holds skydiving championships and even has its own TV channel.

[00:16:30] And lest we forget, it also controls the most successful energy drink in the world.

[00:16:36] And to think, it all came from a tired Austrian toothpaste salesman trying to get over his jet lag.

[00:16:45] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on Red Bull.

[00:16:49] Whether you are an avid Red Bull drinker, or you can’t stand the smell of the stuff, well I hope it was a fun one and you learned something new.

[00:16:58] As always, I would love to know your thoughts about this episode. Are you a big Red Bull fan?

[00:17:04] What is Red Bull associated with in your country?

[00:17:07] Have you tried Krating Daeng, the original Thai version?

[00:17:10] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:17:14] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com, and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:17:23] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:17:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]