Today, a guy named Felix Bumgartner safely jumped from a balloon in outer space, back to earth. His only equipment was a special suit and a parachute. It was pretty cool. And over 7 million people watched it live online. Red Bull sponsored the jump. So Red Bull basically created its own media event by sponsoring Felix’s endeavor. It was cool. And really good marketing.

But that’s all it was. Regardless of how you might justify this event, whether for the science, the imagination, or whatever, this was a publicity stunt. Bottom line. In generating all those live online impressions, plus all the tweets about it, plus all the hype leading up to it, Red Bull struck gold.

I like Red Bull. A lot. I think their brand is the Mercedes Benz of energy drinks. I drink it every day. But they don’t need to do stuff like this to impress me. Or make me think that consuming their product will make me perform like any of their daredevil stuntmen. But they do these things anyway. And it’s cool. Because there is an element of the population that eats this shit up. It’s probably the same people who watch reality TV. The only reality TV I watch is sports. I love sports. But rarely does anyone live at the edge of death as part of their sport. Sure, someone might suffer a broken neck and become paralyzed in football, and sadly we go gaga over really big hits that nearly decapitate players, but mostly sports are just unscripted events where the outcomes are based on passion and execution. What Bumgartner did was spectacular. And passionate. Part sport, part Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Mostly the latter. I didn’t watch the event live today. But I’d venture to guess that people who watch reality TV flocked to it. Why? Because someone could have died on television while attempting a stunt. Cool.

This wasn’t important science. This wasn’t man reaching for the stars. This was Evel Knievel with better publicity. When I was a kid the Knievel events were huge. As huge as they could have been during an age when we got four TV channels and our phones were attached to walls. What was amazing about this event today was how we shared it – in real time. Together. We love that shit in social media. The Super Bowl. The Oscars. Presidential Debates. We flock to things we can share in real time together. Today’s event was like that. And it was spectacular.

But did Red Bull jump the shark? Let’s think about that for a second. When The Fonz jumped the shark on Happy Days he was basically doing an Evel Knievel stunt. With a Jaws twist. It was freaking huge at the time. Everyone tuned in. And it went down in history as one of the biggest mistakes of a popular television show trying to hang on to relevance. I sure hope that’s not the case with Red Bull.

So why did you watch? Because it was important science? Important for human evolution? Because you like Red Bull? Because you thought it might be cool to see a crazy guy’s blood boil before his lifeless body bounced limply on the ground? No, you watched it because the machine of publicity told you to. You watched it for the exact same reason that we used to watch Evel Knievel jump shit in the 70s.


Jim Mitchem

Five Things I'd Do If I Were The King of America
The Edge of Innocence

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.