Running Advertising Sports Marketing

How to make sure your brand's marathon sponsorship doesn't run out of steam

By Lizzy Pollott, creative director

April 21, 2017 | 5 min read

On Sunday, more than 40,000 people – me included – will run 26.2 miles round the streets of our capital city with millions more watching on the ground and around the world.

london marathon

And after a career in the agency sector, the best analogy I can make is that running a marathon can feel a bit like an extremely drawn-out pitch process: there's the excitement at the start when you find out you’re in; the realisation of the hard graft ahead; the wobbles and self-doubt; the hours put into it, the breakthroughs and the endless practising the damn thing, over and over again.

And then, finally, the elation (or, maybe just sometimes the despair) of the day itself.

The one big difference for me is that the pitch process of the London marathon is one I’d happily do every year, over and over again, albeit with blisters and missing toenails.

For the London Marathon’s sponsors however, there are other challenges.

The most obvious is how to stand out from the crowd.

When I took the time to look, I was surprised that the London Marathon has no fewer than 18 official partners; I’ll send you a used plaster if can you name them all.

Each of these sponsors are in it for their own reasons and the categories stretch from water and sports apparel through to the official watch, hotel, car and beyond.

Arguably the brand that has achieved the greatest cut through this year is Heads Together, the mental health charity supported by Princes Harry and William and the Duchess of Cambridge. But not every brand has such high-profile ambassadors to lead the media agenda: Harry’s interview in the Sunday Telegraph, on his reaction to his own mother’s death, has been the standout story in the week of a general election announcement.

That said, there is much that can be done for sponsors with less star power at their disposal.

Marathon runners make good customers and the event’s training footprint offers plenty of opportunity for brands to engage. This weekend is a big “life moment” for every runner and their families.

Memories, photos, videos of your marathon experience stay with you for years, on and offline – indeed my dad still has my first marathon finisher photo framed on his office wall.

Few pursuits are documented in quite such detail and for so long as the London Marathon and the chance to be associated with the (hopefully) euphoric experience is not to be underestimated.

Too often, however, I see sponsor activations flounder. At the official marathon Expo – when the runners collect their number – brand activations can sometimes jar.

The majority of runners go to pick up their race number a little nervous, and focused on the task ahead – not an ideal time to try and engage them in a throwaway game or competition, or sell them something unrelated to the task immediately ahead.

Getting it right can be bring brand love however. Those who find a way to naturally insert themselves into the process of running a marathon will be the most successful.

Adidas has executed its partnership to maximum effect this year, from offering weekly free training runs for participants over the past four months, to pre-race pro-tip sessions, pasta parties and more. As a runner in the race, it’s hard to miss its support and the leg up that it offers to the runner.

Beer brand London Pride has managed to make a successful mark on the marathon over the course of its 10-year partnership by owning the spectating side of the marathon – from free pints for supporters, to pub guides and official cheerpoints.

But my favourite marathon-related brand isn’t a sponsor.

Every year, I manage to seek and find the chirpy kid holding fistfuls of Marks & Spencer’s Percy Pigs, usually at around the 23-mile mark. The perfect product at just the right moment.

Now there is someone truly offering an invaluable service. He’s got a future in sports marketing.

Lizzy Pollott is creative director of HSE Cake

Running Advertising Sports Marketing

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