Red Bull: David Rohdy

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Red Bull, the energy drink that launched a herd of competitors, is playing it quiet.

But not on the sales or marketing front. In the first five months of this year alone, the charging bovine outpaced the robust industry, with volume rising 260% to 658,000 cases-more than quadruple its closest competitor, according to Beverage Digest. Ad spending last year more than doubled to $19 million, says Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Not bad for a product that's in only about two-thirds of the U.S.

The Austrian import's hush is that of a runaway success that doesn't need to hype itself for fear it will give strategic clues to competitors. Standing U.S. guard over the secret formula is David Rohdy, the tight-lipped VP-marketing of Red Bull North America since 2000.

"If I were to tell you [why we've been successful], everybody would imitate it," says Mr. Rohdy. The 40-year-old is even taciturn about his own background (senior director of marketing on new-business development at ConAgra Foods).

Red Bull isn't just the industry leader but the industry originator. Beverage behemoths such as Anheuser-Busch Cos., Cadbury Schweppes' Snapple Beverage Group, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo's Pepsi-Cola Co. are hoping to dent its lead-and this doesn't even count the small pretenders to the energy throne that are rolling out slim-can products.

Red Bull's domestic success mirrors results-and strategies-in other countries, say insiders. It launched from a European base into California and the Pacific Northwest in 1997. It carries a philosophy of "helping, not selling," and uses street crews who extol the virtues of the brand in a one-on-one platform, insiders say. Marketing is drilled down to the local level, with the U.S. broken into eight regions that steer local efforts.

Advertising is consistent worldwide-a cartoon bull flapping its wings and the "Red Bull gives you wings" tag. The U.S. shop is Lunch Advertising, Santa Monica, Calif. The company clearly is not trying to make Red Bull an image choice as do beverage competitors. "Anybody needs an energy drink," Mr. Rohdy says, "and whether it fits into someone's lifestyle is inconsequential."

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