From inside and out the asphalt a conversation with Cinto Ajram about brand activation at the Marathon Majors

We have talked with Cinto Ajram, our CEO and a truly passionate about running, that has participated in several Marathons during his career; we have discussed with him about the experience on the asphalt and about his perspective in sports marketing and brand activation in these great events.

Almost a million viewers on site during the Boston Marathon, do you think companies should aim to activate these people during the race?

Without a doubt, they should!! There are millions of people watching the event in person, through their TV or digital channels such as Dazn, Amazon, Facebook and that must be taken into account as well in the sponsorship strategy. Something that we always recommend to our clients is precisely not to focus only on those who run but to think about all those who accompany the runners. These people also live the passion of the marathon sharing their friend’s, relative’s, favorite athlete’s dream and they know 100% what athletes have invested to accomplish their goal. Sometimes, they even suffer in their flesh the personal sacrifice that hard training implies, and that’s why brands should think about those that are watching, living and experiencing the event from another perspective.

We are in a stage in marketing and especially sports marketing where engagement and experiences are the foundations for brands to connect with their audiences.  From your perspective, which activation before, during or after the race did you like the most? Why?

Throughout these years I have seen lots of activations.  But if I had to pick up just one, I would say one carried out by Abbott before the race, in the expo. They run the activation in the Majors, and it consists of a gigantic where people have to run, in a WR peace, 200m or 400m. This kind of activations put you in a perspective to see how fast the top athletes run during the whole race…it’s amazing!

I also like brands that massively distribute merchandising for those who encourage and cheer during the race. It is true that sometimes it is a big investment, but it’s impressive when runners and in broadcasting, there are thousands of people with applauders or other tools cheering up for runners creating a great atmosphere. People really use merchandising to support if they get them.

Talking about post-race activations, I would say one that we did in Zurich with the Zurich Marathon of Barcelona that I think was very simple but very good. When you run a marathon, your head is programmed to reach the finish line, once it is crossed, your head is disconnected, and your legs are blocked. In those moments it is tough to walk, and it is at that point, after walking 100 or 200m, when the organization makes you the chip from the shoe. You do not know how it costs to bend over and take away the chip … In Zurich, as a service to the runners, we had dozens of people who took away the chip and made that moment easier. That’s thinking about runners, their need and connecting with them!

First of all, Cinto. How many Marathons have you run so far?

Asphalt marathons, only 4 (the fifth will be on April 28 at the London Marathon). I started running my first marathon at home, in Barcelona, and later, thanks to the organizers of Barcelona’s I was invited to go to Paris. After Paris, I decided to do all the Marathon Majors, and I ran New York in 2015 and Berlin in 2017.

Speaking of Trail running, I have run a lot, between marathons and ultramarathons I would say I’ve run about 40 (I do not keep counts anymore).

Putting aside brand exposure. What do you think that generates the greatest interest for companies to carry out sponsorships in such large marathons and with so many people?

The reasons I think can be many and very different but, for me, there are 3 that are key. The first is the connection between running values and the values of the brands they sponsor. Running and specifically running a marathon, involves effort, overcoming, resilience, healthy life, etc. and those are very positive values that all companies want to link to their brand.

Secondly, it is an excellent opportunity to connect with thousands of people, and this connection means the chance to get closer to the brand. This is an event where brands can connect with runners while they are enjoying their most loved hobby and to achieve that goal, brands must adapt their messages and activations to create a lasting experience to engage with their potential clients and create a long-lasting relationship.

Last but not least, at the business level, companies that bet on big marathons and running races have an opportunity not only to sell their products and services (especially more endemic brands such as sportswear, isotonic drinks, etc.) but to generate this engagement with the brand and, therefore, increase the propensity for future consumption and influence the purchase decision. Another great indicator is retention; customers who run marathons are much more faithful to brands that sponsor their events than to other brands that don’t.

From your point of view, what do you look for when a company makes an activation in this type of event?

What I value the most is that the sponsors think about me as an individual, not as one more runner. When sponsors run an activation, they must take into account that even the biggest brands such as Asics, Nike or NB make efforts to target their audiences depending on their needs and profile. If they do not work in that way, their sponsorship strategy will be less efficient, and the ROI will be affected. And, to do that, must bear in mind that sales are at the end of the funnel and the only way to reach that point is to create valuable experiences to attract people and make them feel comfortable when interacting with the brand.