Nike's Breaking2 – marketing stunt or sporting history? Only time will tell

Dom Burch is the founder and MD of Why Social, a strategic marketing consultancy, and former senior director of marketing innovation and new revenue at Asda. Trained in PR, Dom has spent the last 17 years in a variety of comms roles at Asda, Direct Line and Green Flag including head of PR and head of social.

As brand activations go, Nike's Breaking2 clearly went the extra mile. An extra 26 miles 385 yards to be precise.

This was three years in the planning, involving Nike recruiting world-class athletes to train for months, getting them to skip London and Paris marathon races, then filming it all behind closed doors, albeit broadcasting it live via Facebook to a global audience.

Not since Red Bull chucked a man out of spaceship with a parachute has the world of sports marketing seen such an audacious feat.

This time however, unlike the caffeine fuelled exploits of the world's most edgy carbonated drink, the brand in question had a product synonymous with the activity in question - running.

The challenge, getting an Olympic athlete to break the two hour barrier for completing a full marathon, was no mean feat.

According to the BBC, to achieve a sub-two hour time, Rio Olympic marathon gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge would have to run 100 metres in just 17 seconds, 422 times in a row!

I think my personal best for the 100m at school was sub 16 seconds, and I only ran it once.

Anyway, he didn't get under two hours did he? Although to be fair the margin he missed by – 26 seconds – was minimal.

In fact had he run on average just one second faster for every mile he completed he'd have made it.

To rub salt in the wound, because various pacemakers were used throughout the attempt, the time will not even be recognised as a world record.

But maybe that's irrelevant, bearing in mind he absolutely smashed Dennis Kimetto's previous fastest mark of 2:02.57 by more than two and a half minutes.

Despite the world record technicality, Kipchoge rightly claimed: "This is history."

The publicity generated has been significant.

According to Brandwatch, Nike generated nearly 600,000 mentions on social media, with the hashtag #Breaking2 being used more than 400,000 times.

Were that not enough, #Breaking2 accumulated over 2 trillion impressions, which sounds like a very big number to me, so must be good.

And the final brand recognition cherry on the cake, it even drew praise from Nike’s arch rival, Adidas.

In a tweet, Adidas said: "Congratulations @EliudKipchoge on such a courageous run."

As reported in The Drum Adidas is now on a mission to break 'Sub2' itself.

Similar to Nike, the German brand has designed its own specialist shoe for the attempt, the Adizero Sub2, which is slated for release later this year.

So did it work? And more importantly, what can we learn from it?

Anthony Ha, writing for Techcrunch, said in his view Breaking2 had "reached a kind of marketing nirvana, something that brands promise all the time without really delivering — a great story that also happens to be part of an advertising campaign."

In the era of fake news, dull advertising and clogged up social media, gaining a brand standout requires great skill.

What Nike has done is combine overcoming the odds, with a new product launch, harnessing social media in an authentic and genuine way, while throwing down the gauntlet to its biggest rival.

The race is now well and truly on.

I'm off to dust off my old Nike Airs. I only need to shave two hours 28 minutes off my marathon PB.

Follow Dom on Twitter @DomBurch

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