In 2007, David Cameron made headlines by blaming Grime music for knife crime. Ten years later this genre has become a widely accepted part of mainstream British culture.
With its new-found popularity, Grime is now ripe for bandwagon-jumping brands: Nike and Adidas, for instance, have all created campaigns in the last two years that have engaged with mainstream Grime artists like Skepta and Stormzy.
On the other hand, Red Bull has been loyally working with the Grime scene for years before it went mainstream, primarily manifesting in yearly ‘‘Clashes’’: events where teams of Grime orators linguistically ‘battle’ each other. There’s a clear winner in every Grime Clash – one team always comes out on top.
And just as Manchester claimed the crown against Birmingham at last year’s Clash, I think Red Bull has similarly trounced its competitors when it comes to leveraging the genre to burnish its own ‘edgy’ brand reputation.
How has Red Bull managed to do this? And what can other brands learn from this success?
Red Bull and Grime Music: A History of Clashes
It’s fair to say that Red Bull has been engaging with Grime Music for a long time.
In 2014 Red Bull introduced Culture Clash, a music event where MCs and DJs, many from the Grime canon, “clashed” in verbally colourful ways. Two year later, Red Bull went further by creating Grime-a-Side, a YouTube show where different underground Grime MCs from various UK regions battled.
What Has Clashing Done For The Energy Drink Brand?
Clashing is a pivotal part of Grime culture (as it was with Hip-hop). It provides a democratic space for constructive confrontation as well as a space for exposure.
For Red Bull, a commercial brand, to facilitate these clashes helped the energy drink brand win immense respect from Grime fans/ artists and has had a tangible impact on perceptions.
I recently spoke with Denzil Bell, a Music Journalist at Complex & RWD, about this very topic. He told me that:
“Red bull, outside of the drink, was more seen as a brand that was involved in extreme sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding. But after engaging with the Grime scene with the clashes they’ve put on over the years, this has increased their respect within the urban music scene arena”.
Red Bull’s long-term commitment to Grime contrasts massively with other brands (from a number of different sectors) whose campaigns have shown a more superficial engagement with the genre. As Adam Shore, Red Bull’s Head of Live Music, pointed out in a recent interview with Forbes:
“Competitors like Monster Energy Drink are partnering with the likes of Post Malone for crass, short-term, co-branded tours, Red Bull has thoughtfully exhibited a long-term vision—prioritizing taste, forward-thinking art, and quality. It’s an attitude that has served them well, allowing the company to completely revolutionize its image among fans of underground music and the artists themselves.”
Cashing in on Clashing?
For decades Red Bull engaged in extreme sports to consciously cultivate an edgy brand image. Red Bull’s path to achieve respect in the Grime scene then is perhaps just a modern way for the brand to rejuvenate its ‘edgy image’; a way of refreshing it for the diverse, colourful paint palette which composes modern Millennials – many of whom are Grime fans.
To clash in the way Red Bull did is not possible for all brands. Not all brands will want to play a Red Bull long game with genres like Grime or any genre. But what we see with Red Bull and Grime Music is a fascinating glimpse of what can happen when a brand really embeds itself into a movement, understands the different nuances and needs of its audiences, and delivers content that speaks directly to them.
I believe that’s a brand lesson we can all learn from.