Nike misses out on sub-two-hour marathon but #Breaking2 stunt hailed as marketing triumph

Eliud Kipchoge approaches the finish line

For Nike, this was glorious failure. The sportswear giant’s attempt to propel one of its athletes to the “impossible” feat of a sub-two-hour marathon may have come up an agonising 26 seconds short, but the #Breaking2 “moonshot” is likely to be remembered for setting new standards in sports marketing regardless.

Early this morning at the Monza Formula One racetrack in Italy, 32-year-old Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge became the fastest person in history to run a marathon when he set a time of 2 hours and 25 seconds, about 2 and a half minutes faster than the current world record.

The Olympic marathon champion’s incredible demonstration of human endurance will not be officially recognised as a world record because of the carefully controlled (and, as some consider it, controversial) conditions in which the race took place. Kipchoge was supported by a squadron of elite pace setters who were subbed in and out and benefited from a hydration strategy that disqualifies him from official recognition by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

But that will not trouble Nike, which is today basking in the praise of Kipchoge’s remarkable run, which was broadcast live simultaneously on Facebook and Twitter and can be watched in full on YouTube.

As The Drum detailed yesterday, Kipchoge and the two other runners who were attempting to smash the two-hour barrier were each wearing a specially customised shoe called the Zoom Vaporfly Elite. Having now been splashed all over the world's media, these futuristic trainers will soon go on sale to casual runners around the world backed by acres of earned media coverage.

Nike's astute stage-managing of the #Breaking2 project on social media, and the subsequent widespread attention it has received from the world's press and broadcasters, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Red Bull Stratos jump from the edge of space in October 2012, which hitherto had been considered the high watermark of content marketing productions.

Having gone much closer to breaking the two-hour barrier that many sports commentators had expected – indeed Nike's own promo for #Breaking2 had described the feat "impossible" – the temptation would be for the brand to repeat the spectacle and try go one better next time. As Bloomberg reports, its rival Adidas is also waiting in the wings with its own 'Sub2' project and shoes, though no date has been set for its attempt yet.

But Matt Nurse, vice-president of the Nike Sport Research Lab, suggested to the Guardian that the brand may try something else next instead.

“We are already discussing other moonshots, perhaps related to female athletes. It’s not one and done, it just may take a different form next time," he said.

One thing is for sure. This event will be referenced in presentation decks at marketing conferences for some time to come.

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Cameron Clarke

Cameron Clarke has been a journalist at The Drum for more than 10 years and is now its Deputy Editor. Based in the UK, he is primarily responsible for overseeing The Drum's coverage of the media industry and marketing agencies. His work includes long reads on Brewdog, Patagonia, De Correspondent and the future of sports rights. He was named Feature Writer of the Year at the 2017 PPA Scottish Magazine Awards.

All by Cameron