Brands in the race: what the runners are wearing

Posted by Deck on April 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

So I learned one thing and realized another when it came to trying to figure out what brands the elite runners are wearing. I learned that it is nearly impossible to figure out a shoe brand when someone comes running by you at a mind-boggling 5 minute mile pace. And I realized that it doesn’t really matter anyway. That’s because the elite runners are all sponsored. Which I should have known. D’oh!

So, thinking about sponsorships (as someone that loves them should do), the question should have been “who is sponsoring the elite runners”? And I bet you can guess the answer. From what I could see, the most prevalent sponsor of those that had their name and not just a number on their bib was none other than Nike. That’s not to say there weren’t other brands. And actually, on the men’s side, there was a lot more variety, but the women seemed to be sporting a whole lot of swooshes on everything they had on. And it seems to make sense. Nike seems to have a sponsorship strategy tied more to the athlete than the event. Sponsor the best of the best and watch the trickle down.

The one interesting anomaly was the men’s winner, Meb Keflizghi. Sleep he sports the Nike logo when running for Team USA, his sponsor for the marathon was Sketchers. Perhaps we will see a boost in Sketchers sales of running apparel?

As for the more “casual” runner (because who can say anyone that runs the Boston Marathon is a casual runner) brands were all over the place. Again, watching shoes is difficult…one has to look for telltale design features which can make it difficult to tell a Brooks from an Asics from a New Balance. What I do know is that toward the front there were a few swooshes, there were very few of the Adidas 3 stripes, and there were a lot in the Asics/Brooks mold. Where Adidas did seem to have a large presence was in the apparel though. Also a lot of Nike tops (shorts are borderline impossible to tell).

I think it would be fascinating to sit at the finish line and watch as the runners come in and look at their shoes and apparel. It could be broken down in every 1000 to see how the brands worn change in relation to finishing position. The idea being that there would be a lot more of the “running brands” at the front, and more of the “athletic brands” toward the end. It could give an insight into whether the target audiences are getting the message.

Something to think about. But for now, I’ll just say it looks like Nike still reigns as the king of the sponsored athlete, and the running brands seemed to hit their mark.

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Adidas and the Boston Marathon Expo

Posted by Deck on April 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

The expo of a marathon is a fun place. It’s where a lot of companies with goods that runners like (and some that seem oddly out of place) come together to peddle their wares. Offering special expo pricing, bundle deals, and the latest gadgets.

Some of the things are a little cheesy. Glitter headbands so you sparkle when you run anyone? How about waterproof carrying cases in a myriad of colors that don’t move when you jump up and down?

For the most part though, the expo is anchored by the brands you would expect to see. All of the shoe companies (with the exception of Nike and Under Armour) had a booth. New Balance excelled with their support of Boston while Mizuno kicked off an interesting “if everyone ran” campaign. Garmin and Timex were showing off the latest tech gadgets. PowerBar, Clif Bar, Gu and others had the recovery drinks and bars and gels that you needed to perform your best. And for when you finish your race, there were compression everything from Skinz.

But the belle of ball is the one that pays the largest sponsorship share, and for Boston, that meant Adidas. Before going anywhere, one was routed through the Adidas mini-store, full of new products, officially licensed merch and two glaring mistakes. (This isn’t pick on Adidas day, but when you are the lead athletic sponsor, it behooves you to do things well).

The first was rather subtle, but still an amateurish marketing mistake. One of the first rules of marketing is know your customer. On Saturday, the 3rd day of the expo, the racks and shelves in the women’s section were filled…with mediums and larges. This is a marathon expo. And not just any marathon, it’s the Boston Marathon. One that requires runners to qualify. And there is no half marathon, 5K, fun run. It’s about serious running with serious runners. How many are size medium and large? The full shelves and upset customers, bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t get the shirt, shorts, or pants in their size indicated not many. And to make matters worse, Adidas supplied all of the shirts for all runners that signed up. This means they knew the sizes of all runners! True, some could have bought multiple articles, and some like me could have been supportive SOs that purchased things as well. To run out of sizes before the expo opens on the 3rd day (um…Friday night restocking orders?) is inexcusable.

The second error was impossible to miss; the day-glow orange jackets and shirts were about as inconspicuous as an elephant in your dining room. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. Mixing up the color combinations of the apparel makes repeat runners want to buy more. If they were the same every year, why buy another one? But this wasn’t a normal year. This was the year after one of the worst tragedies of any American sporting event. This was the year Boston was showing just how strong and resilient it is. This was an opportunity to embrace that, to join in that message, and to make a statement. And it flopped.

In a survey on Bostonmagazine.com 61% were not in favor of the color scheme. Adidas claimed:

“The tragedy is beyond anything we can do for color palette or verbiage. It’s bigger than this jacket,” said Mikal Peveto, who oversaw all race apparel design as director of running for Adidas America. “We want to look back and be reverent, but it’s a new beginning.”

A fashion expert even said that the he orange is being seen on hue go runways from the top designers as it represents “happiness, success, enthusiasm, and determination.”

That’s all fine. And I’m sure they still sold their fair share. And maybe they wanted to treat this like just another year because they didn’t want the tragedy to define the event. But that’s the thing…the tragedy did define it; in a fantastic way. The way people came together, showed their strength of community, and celebrated was something to be commemorated. And this is a town that embraces their blue collar roots. That stands for tradition. Heck the day of hue he race is a Boston only holiday called Patriot’s Day (and no, it’s not for the football team). A jacket in red, white and blue. Or the blue and yellow of the B.A.A. Or featuring the Boston Strong ribbon. Something to make this year different and special (they did out the Boston Runs as One saying on the back, but it was impossible to see with the white on orange scheme). It was an opportunity to really get the brand out there, to establish it in a very positive way. No one would have thought Adidas was just trying to sell jackets if it was done right. People would have talked about how Adidas captured the spirit of the event and of the city. They would have proudly worn it to say, I was there!

The sponsorship affords Adidas some opportunities that others don’t have (which is why companies pay sponsorship dollars). And where they had an opportunity to hit a home run, they struck out looking.

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And the lead athletic sponsor of the Boston Marathon is…?

Posted by Deck on April 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

…Adidas. How many guesses would you have needed before coming up with that one? 15? 25? Would it even have been in the top 100?

For fans of the Boston Marathon, you probably would have come up with it pretty quick. They have been sponsoring the marathon since 1989 (I know, I was surprised too). But for the casual running fan, probably wouldn’t have registered. And that’s due to the fact that Adidas probably isn’t seen as a running brand, so there is a disconnect.

If I asked to name a sport associated with Adidas, I would be soccer would be number one. Maybe basketball at number two? Maybe. But if I asked to name a running brand, how many would it take to get to Adidas?

The question, though, for Adidas, is if the sponsorship has been successful. I don’t have the data going back to the first one, so it’s hard to know for sure. Could their brand recognition as a running brand have grown? Possibly. Could sales be up? Possibly. However, the estimated 4.4% market share in the $15 billion a year running shoe market leads me to believe otherwise. They re a long ways behind the leader, Nike, at nearly 54%. And if you are asking about the serious runner, that’s dominated by Brooks and Asics. In my brief (seriously like 5 minutes) search, I didn’t uncover running apparel market share, but I would expect similar results.

So, why does Adidas keep doing it? And why does the Boston Marathon keep associating its brand with Adidas. My guess; the almighty dollar. From Adidas perspective, this is a huge market, and they want a bigger piece of higher pie. They want to be the biggest player in the global athletic market, and runners make up a huge chunk of that. This is about brand building.

For the B.A.A. (The organizing group of the Boston Marathon), they are going to get the most from a company like Adidas. They have deep pockets and grand ambitions. While Brooks and Asics and Nike may have greater appeal with the serious runner, and a better natural linkage for the casual fan, they don’t necessarily need the overriding sponsorship to drive their business. As such, the B.A.A. probably would not be able to get the same price for their sponsorship. The way it is now, the B.A.A. gets exposure for a brand that is looking for exposure.

Will it work in the long run? Well, 26 years is a long time, and to still be sitting at below 5% doesn’t seem to indicate much success. It’s one thing to pay for a sponsorship, it’s another to deliver a product that consumers want and take seriously. Are the elite runners wearing Adidas? I don’t know, but I intend to find out (and have an excuse for another post!). Are the casual runners wearing Adidas? Does the sponsorship extend beyond naming and into commercial/promotional activities? How does Adidas leverage this access other than being the first booth at the expo (which seemed to have a couple flops…more in yet another post…)?

The launch of their new shoe could help. It will be interesting to see how things go from here.?

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Promotional Sponsorship

Posted by Deck on April 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

We know that highly identified fans are more likely to respond to promotional sponsorship.  However, is it because of the sponsorship, or because they are already part of the sponsoring company’s demographic?  Maybe the reason that highly identified fans drink Bud Light is because Bud Light drinkers are more likely to become highly identified fans rather than the fact that Bud Light is the official beer of the NFL.

This leads to a couple questions.  First, if the sponsorship plays a strong role in that behavior, could it be altered?  Could there be an uptick in Miller Lite consumption if they suddenly became the official beer of the NFL?

Second, is the goal of the sponsoring company simply to maintain the place in the minds of the highly identified fan, or are they trying to gain traction with the lower identified fan?  Does attending a football game lead one to consume more Bud Light after the game (removing the scarcity that is created in the stadium)?

I don’t actually know the answers to either of these, and haven’t found a paper that directly studies them.  So, it’s a matter of opinion.  In the first scenario, I would assume that the impact would not be immediate, but over the course of maybe 5 seasons, there would be a noticeable change in consumption/share specific to highly identified football fans, and not just for in-game consumption.

For the second, I think that most in-game/in-stadium sponsorship is meant simply for brand building.  It’s about developing a positive name recognition, and is something that is beneficial for non-global brands like Bud Light.  For example, Group Health sponsors the Seahawks and has in-stadium signage.  This simple act helps bring Group Health to the top of mind for those highly engaged fans.  However, I don’t think that it serves as a venue to grow the mindshare of the casual fan.  And trying to get the casual fan to become more highly identified may not be worth the challenge.

As brands think about narrowing and targeting their customer bases, going after specific “tribes”, the highly identified fan serves this role.  And while this group may grow, it is up to the team, not the sponsor, to build this.  The sponsor should focus on these core pockets where they will get more bang for their buck.


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Posted by Deck on March 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

After watching the Olympics, I’ve suddenly become obsessed with the idea of sponsorships.  Why do companies do it?  Throughout the Olympics, we heard countless times “proud sponsor of the US Olympic team”.  Some of them made sense.  Think Under Armour and Nike.  Some seemed to be a little more of a stretch.  Visa cards are used to pay for things, so maybe.  Some were definitely a good will play.  BP wanted people to think they aren’t all bad.  And some had me scratching my head.  Why is BMW making bobsleds(?) for the US team, but not the German team?

These questions have led me on a search of why sponsor anything?  What is the goal? How does one measure success?  Where is sponsorship going to go?

Sponsorships are mostly visible during the major sports, but they are definitely prevalent in today’s marketing environment.  From small theater productions and local 5K races to the Super Bowl and World Cup, someone is sponsoring something.

For the next few months, I’ll definitely be putting up posts about sponsorships, some of my thoughts, and more of my questions.  They may seem to bounce all over the place, but hey, that’s how my brain works sometimes.

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Curious case of trade shows

Posted by Deck on March 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

Tradeshows are an interesting part of a marketer’s life. A three to five day extravaganza where new products are launched, current products are promoted, and copious amounts of food and alcohol are consumed under the guise of customer meetings. A lot of money is spent on having an attractive booth, a lot of floor space and the right people there. But Is it really worth the investment? Why do tradeshows even exist?

Many tradeshows (including all of the ones I attend), are associated with educational conferences. It makes great sense for the organizers to have tradeshows or exhibits associated with the meeting. The vendors pay money to have access to a very specific group of customers. Seems like a win/win. And it has been. But times are changing.

In today’s budget constrained, uber connected world, conferences are losing a little luster. Large national conventions are seeing declines in attendance. Many customers already have information when they walk into the booth. It seems that these are more of an opportunity for a vacation and a chance to see colleagues rather than learn about products. And yet marketers make ever bigger, fancier and more expensive booths.

Based on my experience, the tradeshow is simply becoming a more expensive way to generate mediocre leads. This doesn’t mean I don’t see value in these conferences. Quite the opposite actually. There is a lot of value in attending the education sessions to see where experts see industries moving. There is a lot of value in working with speakers that use your products to feature them more subtly. And there is a lot of value in building relationships with thought leaders and innovators.

Technology offers the opportunity to do virtual tradeshows. Regional meetings offer the opportunity to be even more focused. Direct sales teams offer the opportunity to build relationships with the right people. And while there is a risk in pulling out of tradeshows from a visibility perspective, there is a far better way to spend the money, generate leads, and foster relationships. It’s time to move on.

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Friday Link of the Day – March 7, 2014

Posted by Deck on March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

How do you make your message memorable?  Tell a story…

Great video from Jennifer Aaker of Stanford, and one of the top publishing authors in marketing.  Allow yourself 20 minutes.  It’s worth it.

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Friday Link of the Day – February 28, 2014

Posted by Deck on March 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

So, it’s a couple days late, but I really did have this one ready to go.

Continuing with the sponsorship kick that I’ve been on lately, today’s link looks at the success of Visa’s sponsorship of the Olympics.

Visa is one of those companies that has lead me to ask, why are they sponsoring the Olympics?  What is the objective?  How does this fit?  In this article by MediaPost, we see the through Olympic sponsorship, Visa generated a strong boost in customer perception of the brand.  It’s also a way that Visa keeps the brand out in front of the global audience.

Visa Makes Olympics Sponsorship Count


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I’m not in Marketing!

Posted by Deck on February 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

Today I heard a brand manager exclaim rather forcefully “I’m not in marketing.  I’m a brand manger!”  He went on to explain how as a brand manager he was concerned with things like logistics and speaking with the sales reps.

Now, non marketers might be thinking “what’s wrong with that” while marketers are (hopefully) shaking their heads.  He is right that as a brand manager he is concerned with things like logistics and working with sales teams.  Where he is wrong is the implication that this role goes above and beyond marketing.  In fact, brand management (in this case it’s arguably more product than brand management, but that’s for a different time) is a subset of marketing.

Those logistics he’s talking about?  That’s marketing.  The working with the sales team?  Yep, that’s marketing too.  So is price setting.  So is promotion development.  So is business case development, product launches, training, etc. etc.  And at this point, we are really still living in the 4Ps.  There is customer interaction, collaborator interaction.  Research and analysis.  Segmentation and targeting.  Proper positioning.  Collection of feedback.  Interpretation and dissemination of that feedback.

Truth is, marketing is a huge umbrella.  Unfortunately, it seems like the only people that realize that are marketers.  This goes back to my earlier posts on the marketing profession paradox.  Even within the marketing department within organizations, the assumption is that the “marketers” are the ones that do the advertising.

But it’s just semantics, right?  Who cares if he thinks that what he’s doing is more than marketing?  He’s doing a lot of the marketing, right?  And while that’s a fair point, to me it’s not simply the definition…it’s understanding the greater whole.  It’s understanding how all of the pieces work together in a cohesive marketing strategy to support a product.  It’s about being able to understand priorities and be able to see gaps…about looking at a comprehensive strategic approach to marketing his product to the world.


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Under Armour in the Olympics

Posted by Deck on February 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

Under Armour has gotten a bit of a bad rap these Olympics regarding the underwhelming performance of the US Speedskating team.  Much has been made about their new, hi-tech suits and how they have negatively affected performance.  The question though is what kind of impact this will ultimately have on Under Armour.

I’m sure there are people that have studied this a lot more than I have that have weighed in.  But, I find this a particularly interesting situation.  In sports, we are used to seeing the celebrity endorsement.  Some athlete signs a contract with a manufacturer to where their clothing or pitch their product.  This doesn’t fall into that category.  US Speedskating isn’t promoting the Under Armour equipment.

Instead, this falls more into a corporate sponsorship category.  This is where Under Armour spends the money to create something for an individual or group of athletes.  Think Nike and the development of golf clubs for Tiger Woods. The ultimate goal is that the athlete(s) performs well, and point to the equipment as a key factor to the improvement.  Since people see the athlete validating the equipment, they go out and buy a version of this.  The sponsoring company is hoping that results in the arena translate to sales.

This works in the world of golf.  Tiger is great.  Tiger uses Nike.  Weekend duffers go out and buy Nike.  But how does this work for speedskating?  Was Under Armour hoping that the global speedskating market would suddenly show up in droves to purchase the new amazing suits?  Or at least any speedskating suit made by UA?  Unlikely.

For Under Armour, teaming up with US Speedskating (as well as US Bobsled, US Skeleton, and Canadian snowboarding) was about showcasing the brand on an international level.  It was simply about getting the logo out there, getting people in other countries to see the sleek looking suits, and hear stories about the lengths that Under Armour would go to in developing their products.  It is to position Under Armour as a relevant brand on an international stage, to get some PR, and to build things up.

And honestly, this was a good place to test the simple image transfer.  I didn’t see any Under Armour commercials.  This wasn’t a strong push toward the athleticwear that the core demographic will purchase.  It’s just about building the brand internationally.

Did it work?  Time will tell.  But by renewing their contract, it seems things are headed in the right direction (at least their stock sure is).

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