Column: Incredibly far, indelibly close

Red Bull's techno-marvelous Stratos project reaches a very human space. By Ian Mirlin.

Red Bull’s techno-marvelous Stratos project reaches a very human space

There is a man standing on a step no greater than the width of a skateboard 25 miles up in the sky.

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He has been incorporated into our world through media that has made him ours, an enlightened sponsor that has helped his dreams become real and, through technology so comprehensive and 360-degree eloquent, we stand on that sliver of metal with him, our hearts like jackhammers.

Interestingly, he is no stranger to us despite the fact that where he is and what he is about to do is a universe removed from our quotidian existence. What makes him both familiar and somehow priceless is that he stands at that sublime spot where the incredibly far has at last been made indelibly close, and it may well be the place that defines the ‘X marks the spot’ for all our aspirations as brand makers in the current age.

Turn back the pages of our history and we’ll see that branding, in strategy and execution, has always been a fine alchemy that, at its best, fuses our simple humanity with our sometimes unconscious but grand yearnings – from the lone Marlboro cowboy on the plains of Montana beckoning us to “Come to where the flavour is” to the romantic call of “The Few. The Proud. The Marines,” the simple and reassuring embrace of McDonald’s “You deserve a break today” to Nike’s encouragement to “Just do it” and Apple’s endorsement of our renegade selves in “Think different.”

Each of these braided an aspect of that interior landscape that inhabits us all to a humanely-spoken brand promise unafraid to reach out for it. Now more than ever, we must learn to know and to trust this space.

It is a far richer, more fertile intersection at which to grow our brands than are the arid junctions of yesterday.

It may even be the quintessential high ground and the prime purpose for all the extraordinary new tools we have at our disposal in this age. Look and you’ll see that already there are missionaries who have gone out ahead of us:

• Apple did it through re-inventing product, most memorably in that transformational moment when Steve Jobs held aloft the first iPod, proclaiming “It’s 1,000 songs in your pocket” – astutely chosen words that delivered the remote and distant to the breast-pocket-proximity of the world.

• Coca-Cola did it as a distribution idea with the elegantly conceived Coke Re: Brief Project in collaboration with Google – an idea originally born in 1971 in which a group of hilltop singers imagined buying the world a Coke, superbly transcribed into tangible reality 40 years later as drinkers around the globe bridged the distance by buying one another a can of Coca-Cola.

On Sunday, October 14th, Red Bull wrote their name at the same hallowed intersection.

It is a place that has called to us since this business began. A place beyond John Caples, Rosser Reeves or Ogilvy, Bernbach or Chiat, where our discipline is neither science nor art, but one that transcends them both.

A practice so deeply connected to consumers and connective to the brands they buy that it becomes one of the humanities.

Can a business often fairly maligned for its crass oversimplification of the consumer unreservedly commit itself to the essence of what it means to be human?

When Felix Baumgartner stood on his dizzy perch, gave us a thumbs up and in the crackle and wheeze emanating from within his helmet unpretentiously whispered “I’m going home now,” he could not have given us clearer encouragement.

No matter who we are and how high we jump every day of our lives, we are all joined by a collective and common yearning…

That at day’s end, our mission accomplished, we all simply want to go home.

Ian Mirlin is a writer/thinker and founder of Zero Gravity Thinking.

For more on Red Bull Stratos and the PR considerations of an extreme brand, watch for the Nov. 19 issue of Marketing.

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