The curious case of Rich Energy

The launches have taken place, the cars have been revealed and now the 2019 F1 contenders have hit the track for the first time in Barcelona. From discussions around new liveries, to microscopic analysis of every aerodynamic feature, F1 fans around the world are rejoicing at the opportunity to get stuck into some juicy gossip after the long winter break.

But while the focus might be on track performance, one new sponsor in the F1 paddock has caught our eye, and they haven’t been short on confidence so far….

Much like their product, we’re sure that Rich Energy have raised a few eyebrows if not heart rates with their bold statements and intentions. If you’re familiar with the works of William Storey, the CEO of Rich Energy, you’ll be aware that the company attempted (and failed) to buy the Force India F1 team when it went into administration during the middle of the 2018 season. Undeterred, the British company continued in its quest to join the F1 circus and now finds itself as the title sponsor of the Haas F1 team.

Unsurprisingly, Haas wasn’t the first team that Rich Energy approached about becoming a title sponsor. Williams F1 had that pleasure, with the energy drinks CEO claiming that he “felt sorry for Williams” and that they were “living off past glories and didn’t run a very good business.”

To say that Storey and his energy drinks brand have come up against some doubters would perhaps be an understatement. Questions about the legitimacy of the company have been rife in recent weeks, with many concerned about how Rich Energy is helping to fund Haas F1 (we’re still awaiting the sight of a Rich Energy can in a store near us!). But Storey has laughed away these concerns claiming, “Anyone who says that Rich Energy does not exist is like saying that a person never walked on the moon or that Elvis is still alive.” Whether Haas is caught in a trap – only time will tell, but the arrival of Rich Energy has certainly got a lot of people all shook up.

“We think that we’ve got a better brand than Red Bull….”, “We are confident that we will beat Red Bull in many races this year.” Brash statements from Storey that very clearly set out the company’s intentions at an early stage in the partnership. On the first day of testing in Barcelona, Rich Energy was quick to jump on the fact that the Haas car set a quicker time than Red Bull Racing. Out came the “We are faster than Red Bull” message and the #betterthanredbull hashtag. Over 350 Twitter comments later, and that post is potentially putting Rich Energy on the map as a big fat sponsorship disruptor – the term we use to describe a non-conventional sponsor, often more intent on being loud rather than innovative.

If the purpose was to seek attention and get people talking about the brand, in an ambush marketing kind of way, then they can tick that box.

In general though, any successful sponsorship is built over time, not over night. Brands have to work hard to place themselves in the consciousness of the casual fan. They are not there to detract from the fan experience or enjoyment of the team/sport that they love. If a partner wants to work successfully alongside a rightsholder then they must fit seamlessly into the already established, or they must add to the fans understanding and enjoyment by providing them with new experiences. Through a broad portfolio of owned and non-exclusive sponsorships and events, Red Bull has done exactly this for the last 30 years or so.

When Red Bull Racing burst onto the F1 scene in 2005, it was also a disruptor with its equally brash approach, uprooting the status quo within the paddock. However, Red Bull did it in a way that was dazzling, innovative and intriguing. The Austrian firm first entered F1 in 1989 as a sponsor of Gerhard Berger, and between then and 2005 continued to innovate and excite whilst selling millions of cans around the world. Red Bull’s approach was to substantiate their bold communications by adding value consistently rather than simply shouting outlandish claims from the rooftops. Whether positive or negative, Storey’s company is acting in a manner perfectly in line with what’s on the yet to be seen tins: rich!

If Rich Energy’s mission is to be a disruptor in an age of short attention-spans, then good luck to them, but it’s an incredibly dangerous line to walk. It could so easily, and very quickly, work against them. Sadly, at greatest risk of being hurt is Haas F1. When you have a bold and brash title sponsor that you can’t control, you have to accept that what comes out of their mouths will also be a reflection of you. The best partnerships work when there is synchronicity and understanding between rightsholder and brand, and they work together to tell their stories in an effective and engaging manner. Red Bull is a classy, forward-thinking brand focused on introducing fans to exciting new experiences and events. Right now Rich Energy is on a completely different sugar-fuelled planet.