- Red Bull employees leaked an image of a slide from a February marketing meeting that some employees called offensive and racist.
- The slide included a repurposed map meme that described India as “call centers,” China as “they make our stuff,” and Africa as “zoo animals come from here.”
- According to employees, a colleague complained about the slide to human resources, but nothing came of it.
- The leak comes as Red Bull faces criticism from employees for its “public silence” on the Black Lives Matter movement.
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Red Bull employees leaked a slide from a company presentation that some employees called racist and reflective of race- and inclusion-related tensions there.
The slide was shown at a meeting of the company’s US culture-marketing team, a division of its global marketing department, in Detroit in February.
These people shared the image after more than 300 employees signed a June 1 letter to Red Bull leaders to protest what they called the brand’s “public silence” regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.
The image was a variation on a meme called “the world according to Americans” showing a rudimentary world map to make the point that Americans are ignorant and racist when it comes to other cultures.
In the Red Bull version of the slide, India is described as “call centers,” the Middle East as “evil-doers” with an arrow indicating “bombs go here,” and Africa as “zoo animals come from here.”
“Red Bull rejects racism in any form and we do not condone language or behavior that indicates otherwise,” a company spokesperson said in an email when asked for comment.
“We need to reflect this in our business and daily lives. We acknowledge we have work to do,” she said. “We have dedicated internal and external resources to continue to drive towards a more inclusive work environment through education and awareness, including employee training that is currently underway. Further, Red Bull has harassment, discrimination and retaliation policies in place and investigates all complaints thoroughly.”
She added: “We stand with the Black community and we focus on action. It is by what each individual does that we contribute to something larger than ourselves.”
Employees said Red Bull’s marketing team was warned not to use the meme
Red Bull is an international conglomerate with a publishing house and sponsorship network that funds everything from European race-car drivers and soccer teams to NBA stars and break-dancing crews to sell its signature energy drinks. It’s led by CEO Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian billionaire who has expressed populist political views on other matters. In a 2017 interview, he voiced support for Austria’s conservative People’s Party, said Donald Trump should be “given time,” and criticized the decisions by leaders of Germany and Austria to accept refugees. He also described himself as a “cosmopolitan, pacifist and individualist.”
The February event was held to review the company’s performance over the past year. It was headed by a team from the company’s Austrian headquarters and led by Florian Klaass, the company’s global head of music, entertainment, and culture marketing. Erin Woody, Red Bull’s US vice president of culture marketing, was also involved in organizing the event, current and former employees said.
The slide in question showed that Red Bull is a global organization whose largest market is the US and wasn’t presented as a joke, people present said. Many of the 100-plus attendees were shocked or offended by the image, they said.
Two marketing employees said members of Red Bull’s US marketing team reviewed the presentation the day before and told the Austrian team not to use the slide in question but that their advice was ignored.
Two employees said a colleague complained about the slide to human resources but that no action was taken and the slide was not mentioned again by leadership. These employees said HR often dismissed people who make such complaints as “overly emotional” and pointed to executives’ European backgrounds when they were accused of being insensitive about cultural issues.
Some employees said the slide reflected a division between Red Bull’s Austrian leadership and US employees
Current and former employees said the slide, like the June 1 Black Lives Matter letter, illustrated a cultural divide at Red Bull.
Some said Mateschitz and other senior leaders have characterized Black Lives Matter as a “local” or “US-only” issue when arguing that the brand should not weigh in.
In a virtual town hall on June 17, US CEO Stefan Kozak said the brand would not make further statements regarding Black Lives Matter, current employees said.
So far, the main Red Bull brand has not commented beyond a June 2 #BlackoutTuesday Instagram post that did not mention George Floyd or Black Lives Matter.
In internal Slack messages reviewed by Business Insider, a Red Bull North America marketing executive responded to an employee’s question about why the brand chose not to go beyond that post, writing that Red Bull did not want to “publish a hollow statement and produce rhetoric.”
Amy Taylor, Red Bull’s president and chief marketing officer in North America, also wrote on Slack, “We don’t have any further upcoming quotes from the company or entity ‘Red Bull North America’ or ‘Red Bull GmbH,’ but we’ve made it clear where we stand and we will continue to reinforce this with our actions… for the long term.”
An employee who recently left Red Bull said the brand decided to post on #BlackoutTuesday after Jochen Sterrer, the head of the company’s publishing network, sent an email saying that it would be worse to do nothing.
The New York Red Bulls, a New Jersey-based soccer team, tweeted “Black Lives Matter” on June 12. But multiple members of Red Bull’s marketing department said the team is managed separately from the main brand.
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