One small bunny hop for a man, one big leap for marketing. Red Bull pulled off the biggest marketing stunt of the last 20-30 years.

It drives a silver spike in the shriveled heart of television: the jump organizers were able to broadcast uninterrupted without commercials and with total control (no clueless NBC moderators, no delayed broadcast) for more than three hours. They bypassed the entire US TV broadcast system. Red Bull essentially showed a 2.5 hour commercial worldwide without paying a dime to TV. I’d guess the jump had about a third of the viewership of the Super Bowl. Total ad revenue for the 2012 Super Bowl was $250 million. Red Bull’s costs were under a million.

So… when will the Olympics and the Super Bowl be shown via YouTube? When will they drop TV broadcasting?

We started watching Felix Baumgartner’s space jump at 8:30 am (Pacific). Some three million people were on Youtube. As the balloon went up, so did the viewers: 5m, 6m, 7m…

By the time he jumped, some 8 million were watching. But that’s eight million pages. How many people were sitting around the screen? Probably several times more. 16-30 million viewers?

The Red Bull jump reminds me of the marketing stunts of the 1800s and early 1900s. Everyone still remembers P. T. Barnum and many of the crazy stunts to get attention, such as the “Miss America Beauty Pageant”, which started as a marketing gimmick and turned into a national institution (and again a gimmick when Trump took over.)

Janet Fouts, social media expert, writes about the jump’s data and its implications for brand retention. See feedburner.com/janetfouts.