Despite missing 2 hour mark, Nike's marathon stunt was a marketing win

Dive Brief:

  • Nike equipped three of the world's fastest runners — Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese — with variations on its Zoom Vaporfly Elite sneaker for a "Breaking2" marathon race in Monza, Italy over the weekend that was intended to have one athlete finish in under two hours, per TechCrunch. While the race's noncompliance with official rules disqualified it from world record consideration, Kipchoge ran the course in 2:00:25, missing the sub two-hour mark by less than 30 seconds and shattering the previous world record of 2:02:57. 
  • Not only did Nike sponsor a remarkable feat of physical endurance, it also turned "Breakin2" into a huge social draw, despite the event being closed to the public and airing late Friday night in the U.S. Live videos of the race on FacebookTwitter and YouTube racked up millions of views, per TechCrunch, with mindshare further raised by a #Breaking2 hashtag and social ads on Twitter. Nike paid all three runners to skip both the London and Berlin marathons this year. 
  • Adidas is working on a similar initiative called "Sub2" to promote an Adizero Sub2 sneaker model, Ad Age reported. Adidas hasn't announced when its own runners will make the bid for breaking the sub two-hour barrier. 

Dive Insight:

The "Breaking2" marathon campaign fits into Nike's broader strategy shift away from traditional print and TV advertising and big-name celebrity athlete endorsers, marketing consultant Max Lenderman told Ad Age. The theme is becoming a common one in the athletic apparel space at the moment, with Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted recently suggesting his brand is similarly pushing focus away from television toward other channels like mobile, especially as it looks to reach Gen Z. 

"It's clear that the younger consumer engages with us predominately over the mobile device," Rorsted told CNBC in March. "Digital engagement is key for us; you don't see any TV advertising anymore."

"Breaking2" going viral and attracting the number of eyeballs marquee TV events usually do adds weight to Rorsted's assessment, and shows how destination viewing events traditionally delegated to TV are increasingly being broadcast on social, especially with sports. 

TechCrunch's Anthony Ha perhaps summed up "Breaking2" best as a type of "marketing nirvana [...] a great story that also happens to be part of an advertising campaign." Big marketing events that double as impressive, inspiring human accomplishments might help dispel some of the cynicism that's built up toward more traditional forms of advertising and manifested in the form of technologies like ad blockers. 

Beyond pitting racers against each other under friendly circumstances, Nike's campaign is also in playful competition with Adidas, which sent a congratulatory tweet Nike's way.

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Top image credit: Nike