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Brands 'run' to join the marathon race

Marathon, half-marathons and other sundry running events are increasingly becoming popular as marketing platforms for established as well as new brands. So what is there for brands in this great run? BestMediaInfo takes a look

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | February 3, 2014


You are running your first, second or third marathon. As you cross the halfway mark, you silently thank the guy handing out the energy drink. You run some more. Trying to distract yourself, you look up and notice the billboards on the road. You see happy faces with runners wearing new shoes on the posters, or you may see how a gym promises to get you in better shape for the next race. As you finish, you take your medal and look into the goodie-bag handed to you to find biscuits and chocolates from another producer.

You treat them as just givens to create an aura around the run. But the next time you run, you know you will pick up the energy drink if it worked for you, you will look for brand X running shoes when you are trying out a new pair, or recommend those biscuits for instant energy.  All this, because as India becomes more and more fitness conscious and wakes up to the joy of running, brands are waking up to the other side of it – the marketing platform that such marathons and less-than-marathon runs provide.

Harish Bijoor Harish Bijoor

"A marathon, especially a well organised one, is a wonderful opportunity for brands to showcase their products or services. A marathon in a city like Mumbai provides a long stretch of road - at least 21 km in distance - on both sides of which people congregate. Not to mention the ever increasing number of runners. The huge number of eyeballs any ad can get during a marathon would be much more than those of people usually travelling on that route," explained Harish Bijoor, CEO of private-label brand and business strategy consulting practice, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Possibly the two biggest running events in the country – the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon and the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon – are known by the names of the respective title sponsors. Both events are organised by Procam International. Procam breaks sponsorship opportunities into three categories: Title Sponsors, Associate Sponsors and Partners.

Dilip Jayaram Dilip Jayaram

"Spends on sports sponsorships by marketers have traditionally been on spectator sports / television spends. The paradigm with road races is unique as the brand is dealing with a ‘working athlete’ who does a day job but lives the life of an athlete. The engagement that the brand has is the mind space of the runner who actively trains for 8-10 months of the year. The philosophy at Procam isn’t to add brands but to be able to partner with brands to be able to enhance the experience for the runner and thereby provide a sustainable sport platform," said Dilip Jayaram, CEO, Procam International.

A Symbiotic Relationship How can a brand be marketed through such running events, be it a marathon, half marathon or even the smaller 5/10 km races? Many brands, especially those with financial muscle, choose to sponsor a marathon or run. For smaller brands it can be a matter of tying up or being a part of the race day kit or food hamper.

When a big brand sponsors a run, it naturally becomes a global event. Runners from different parts of the world would then be interested since the brand associated with it is known the world over. Therefore, a Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon will see much more international interest than, say, a run sponsored by a local or national masala brand or beverage company. National level interest can also be garnered by making sure that the sponsor is a respected brand at least in the country, as is the case with the Kochi International Half Marathon, sponsored by Muthoot Finance. The race which had brand ambassadors like Milkha Singh, PT Usha and Mohanlal, was held on December 29, 2013. Along with Muthoot, the marathon also partnered with Malayala Manorama for print and television, Medical Trust as Medical partner and United India as Insurance partner.

Alexander George Muthoot Alexander George Muthoot

"Muthoot has always been in the forefront to promote sports and celebrate sportsmanship. Till now we had tied up with Delhi Daredevils and focused on cricket but as the athlete-fan relationship is evolving, we decided to associate with a prominent sports platform that could motivate and mobilise people from all walks of life. Marathon was the unanimous platform that could captivate and engage consumers and further enhance our brand equity. We are proud to be affiliated with this annual sporting event and hope that this marathon celebrated the common passion of running as well as made people pledge for a better, healthy Kerala. It is also a great platform for employee engagement, corporate social responsibility and reaching out to the wider community," pointed out Alexander George Muthoot, Director, Muthoot Group.

More than one partner is a common trend for most running events, keeping in mind the logistics and cost of organising such runs. Consider Pinkathon, the yearly 10 km race for women organised to raise awareness about breast cancer. The event, just a year old, has grown from a few hundred to over 10,000 participants in various cities. In its second year the race organised by model-turned-actor Milind Soman's Maximus Events has seen sponsorships by Adidas, Mumbai Mirror, Lilavati Hospital, Gold's Gym, Tab Cab, Shiamak Davar's Institute of Performing Arts, Wishberry, and Phoenix Market City, to name some.

The Take for Partner Brands

Why would a brand want to be part of an event like this, especially if it is not the main or title sponsor? According to Harish Bijoor, it is a symbiotic relationship where both parties are winners, be it the brand or the event. By partnering with a big brand, the marathon itself becomes more credible. And for brands, an established marathon can be the best platform to introduce new products to hundreds of runners and supporters. As things have shaped up over the past few years, marathons and half-marathons have gone much beyond that of being a race – they have become an eco-system, a movement of sorts.

Parle Group was one of the partners for Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) 2014. The refreshment kit given to runners post the marathon and half marathon included two products from the Parle Biscuits range. Some of its latest varieties – Golden Arcs and Black Bourbon – were also available for sampling at the VIP Marquee and Media Centre. For a known brand like Parle, makers of the famous Parle G, a marathon might not be the platform for introducing a new product. But it is still a huge platform to create repeat awareness, taking advantage of the visibility.

Pravin Kulkarni Pravin Kulkarni

"Our brand values matched those of SCMM and therefore we decided that tying up would be a good idea. We tested it out with different races, but with SCMM being the biggest event now in its 11th year, we realised it would be a good decision. Our brand would be available at the action point, so even if there is no direct impact on sales, we would still be able to recreate awareness while referring to the brand proposition," said Pravin Kulkarni, General Manager, Parle Products.

What about a product which is new? Or maybe something which is so niche that it cannot be marketed anywhere else? Energy drinks are a hot favourite for runners. While most debate the advantages of sipping on Enerzal versus Gatorade, both brands seem to have made running events their primary marketing platform. For the runners energy drinks are usually handed over during and after the race. Taking their commitment a step further, Enerzal, from FDC, sent nutritionists to runners’ meets and sporting events. While runners automatically saw the health benefits of the 'balanced energy drink', the nutritionist could answer queries about eating habits, etc. Enerzal partnered with various events such as SCMM, Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM), Hyderabad International 15K, Bangalore World 10K, Vasai Virar Mayor Marathon, etc.

"Other than nutritionists, we sent samples to different runners' meets and sporting events. Some of our partnerships have been based on sale and product deals while some have been exclusively through sale. Usually practice events purchase our products while marathons get samples from us. We even put up a hydration zone for SCMM. After all these partnerships, even if sales haven't gone up substantially, awareness has surely increased. People come up to us with more questions and they know the difference between various products now," said Enerzal's Business Head, Joseph Chettiar.

The Sportswear Brands

More and more brands are combining such partnerships with some activation of their own. Sporting brands especially stand to win or lose more during partnerships. Realising this, brands like Sketchers, Reebok and Nike take various steps during the marathon season. For example, Sketchers tied up with the Goa Marathon just in time for the launch of their GoRun2 range of shoes. Reebok launched Zigtech targeting it specifically at runners. The promotional activity involved hoardings and banners in regular running routes. Reebok also organised a running squad in Delhi before the ADHM, whereby runners would be trained for the half marathon in seven different locations. Sunita Godara, a former national level marathon and Arjuna Award recipient, was the master trainer for the programme. Similarly, Nike Run Club in Mumbai catered to both first time and regular runners. Coach Daniel Vaz trained the runners once a week in this free for all group. Leading up to the week of the marathon, Mumbai roads were covered with Nike running hoardings.

But do these initiatives actually impact sales? Bare visibility cannot be the only thing a brand wants to go for. There has to be a direct or indirect impact on sales.

Somdeb Basu Somdeb Basu

"The Reebok Running Squad (RRS) was born from the thought that everyone can run. But not everyone is trained for a long distance run. With RRS we wanted to make it a way of life. Therefore, no on-the-face activation was part of the running squads. However, with the help of the experts and coaches we had tied up with, we could build the brand image and loyalty and expertise in the area. With the success this year, we plan to take it to at least six metros in 2014," said Somdeb Basu, Brand Director, Reebok India.

Reebok also recognised that “gratification” will help build loyal customers. While there was no direct sales pitch or any money taken, there were product trainings conducted in the squad. The result was that runners would go to the stores and buy those shoes themselves. The regular runners were also gifted a pair of Reebok One shoes while runners with good potential were given other merchandise.

More sportswear brands are sponsoring marathons or organising their own running events. Puma – the high performance and athletic gear brand – organises the Puma Urban Stampede every year. A 5K corporate challenge, the Urban Stampede provides opportunities for the brand to impact sales and purchase decision because of their direct interaction with the runners. Their target audience are the young professionals who are enthusiastic about sport and fitness. By sponsoring a corporate run, they have made sure that they create a nice space for itself in the running eco system.

Rajiv Mehta Rajiv Mehta

"The format of the race is such that not only does it appeal to both amateur and seasoned runners, but also provides the opportunity to garner loyalty for the brand with new runners. Through this Puma spreads its brand ethos of joy and fun while simultaneously driving home the point of staying fit. Puma Urban Stampede is the best place for us to market our high-performance running shoes. We allow runners to trial our best shoes during the race to see how they feel and we also have a pop-up Puma Store at every Puma Urban Stampede with a special discount for runners on that day. In this way, we are able to get runners to sample our products and, if they like what they try, to even buy on the spot," pointed out Rajiv Mehta, MD, Puma India.

What Works, What Doesn't

Jagdeep Kapoor Jagdeep Kapoor

According to Jagdeep Kapoor, Chairman and Managing Director, Samsika Marketing Consultants, the awareness for fitness in India is growing across all ages. Therefore, sporting events are extremely potent marketing tools. With more than half the population being extremely young, this trend is only going to grow, especially in metros, mini-metros and class I towns.

"However, there is a catch. The brand association in any sporting event has to be based on shared principles. If the theme of the marathon and the core values of the brand have a match, there is synergy and effectiveness. The challenges of this partnership are two-fold. The first one is consistency. The event needs to be held regularly over the years. Second, there is the challenge of credibility and that should not be lost under any circumstances," explained Kapoor.

In the above examples, a Reebok, Nike or Puma fits in effortlessly with a marathon. But that would mean only a handful of brands can associate themselves with such events. The trick lies in figuring out something common between the brand and the marathon, something which either reiterates the goodness of the brand or reminds people of the brand philosophy. Parle's association with SCMM talks about its commitment to healthy eating and living habits. Standard Chartered, though not connected to running in its basic philosophy, has managed to remind everyone of its motto of 'Here for Good' through its continued association with the Mumbai Marathon.

Even Radio stations have figured out a way to do this. Radio Mirchi, which tied up with the ADHM, promoted it through promos, RJ mentions, contests and other programming elements. Being Delhi's No. 1 radio station, this ensured that ADHM generated adequate buzz, adding to the popularity of the event. On the day of the race, they shifted the studio to the venue and broadcast from there. Celebrities and runners shared their thoughts on the station, which helped in capturing the mood and spreading it among millions who could not make it to the venue.

Vivek Modi Vivek Modi

"Radio Mirchi is the most entertaining, energetic and sunshine radio station in Delhi, loved by the city's youth. ADHM is also a sunshine event, spreading the positive message about fitness consciousness, with the primary target group being the youth. To drive home the association between ADHM and Radio Mirchi, we did an on-air campaign – Your Heart Beats Faster with Mirchi! Radio Mirchi also organised two major activities as build-up to the event. The first was the Mirchi Treadmillion, whereby we put up treadmills in popular shopping malls, corporate offices, RWAs in Delhi, inviting people to run. For each kilometre they ran, Mirchi donated Rs 5 to an NGO. The second activity was Mirchi Get Active Expo, where the runners came to collect their running kits. It drew a footfall of more than 35,000 people and celebrities and was therefore an opportunity for all sports and fitness related brands to be under one roof and reach out to similar minded customers," explained Vivek Modi, Vice-President and Cluster Head North, Radio Mirchi.

Therefore, it becomes clear that while people gain by running and living a healthier life, marathons are giving more opportunities to brands to reach their target audience. The only trick is to know how and when to market the product as a failed association can hamper both the brand and the event's image.

The way things have shaped up, everybody is running – people as well as brands – to keep themselves fit and healthy.


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