Video: Red Bull's "Athlete-Powered" Machine
Red Bull calls this athlete-powered Rube Goldberg contraption "Kluge." Kluge, if you're wondering is a slang word based on the same root as the German word klug, which means "prudent; smart." Over the years, though, the word has taken on new meaning. Now it means "a workaround, a quick-and-dirty solution, a clumsy, inelegant, difficult to extend, hard to maintain yet effective and quick solution to a problem," according to Wikipedia (hey, they referenced the Oxford English Dictionary, so it's OK!).
But the machine took more than 100 workers 17 days and 25 tons of material to build at a shuttered air station in SoCal. While that hardly qualifies as a "quick-and-dirty solution" to (spoiler alert!) delivering a single can of Red Bull to a snowboarder, it was a relatively quick solution to delivering Red Bull branding to 6 million YouTube viewers and counting. Red Bull is a massive company that posts roughly $5 billion in annual revenue from the sale of 4.5 billion cans of the energy drink. It's thought that Red Bull spends half to two-thirds of that money on marketing stunts like this one, leading some to call it a marketing company that happens to sell energy drinks. But it works. Red Bull has a nearly 50 percent global market share, despite countless other, arguably better-tasting options.
It sells an idea through films (think snow porn The Art of Flight) and contrived fresh-air spectacles like extreme mountain bike contest Rampage and Travis Rice's Supernatural, billed as snowboarding's ultimate contest. Their main target demographic—18- to 34-year-old males—relates to...even wants to be like those other young people, performing improbable athletic feats and aerial stunts for no other reason than they can. Despite all of the over-production and pretense, those videos and events push the right buttons, so they kind of make sense to me. It's athletes performing in nature—freeriding a powder-coated mountainside, hucking themselves off remote desert cliffs—that speaks to our deep-down desire to be out there, testing our own (no doubt much humbler) limits and the limits of possibility.
The kluge, on the other hand, has all of the pretense but none of the ennobling elements. It's an exercise in pointlessness. A huge machine in an abandoned lot that "requires" hurdler (and bobsledder) Lolo Jones, trials BMX rider Danny MacAskill, skateboarder Ryan Sheckler and nine friends to run, but which, in the end, only manages to free a can of Red Bull from a block of ice. It struck me as a bold statement by Red Bull, something akin to: Hey look, we can put together any damn thing we want, throw some trick-performing athletes in it, break stuff and, with slick post-production work, everyone will think it's awesome and want to drink Red Bull. And damn it if they aren't right, cause it's gone viral (130K people watched while I wrote this). It's an odd moment, like the Wizard of Oz stepping out from behind the curtain.
Anyway, give it a watch. There are automated chainsaws, bowling balls smashing lightbulbs and a belt sander used in an improbable way. It makes no sense at all, but also all the sense in the world.