Marketing at the Marathon

An iPhone ran the Boston Marathon. No, really!

RunKeeper is an iPhone application that tracks all of your running, cycling, walking, and hiking activities. It evaluates speed, pace, and elevation, while using the GPS technology built into the iPhone to record and map your routes.

As part of a social media class at Emerson College, a team of students worked to develop a social media strategy for RunKeeper. They decided to revolve their strategy around the Boston Marathon, a natural choice given the fact that the marathon is literally a holiday in Massachusetts (under a guise of “Patriot’s Day” of course). In order to “cut through the clutter” of marathon marketing, the students devised a plan to have Jason of RunKeeper run the marathon dressed as an iPhone. Leading up to the marathon, the team put together videos to document the journey from first meeting to crossing the finish line. As of this writing, the videos have totaled 12,764 views. Not bad for a previously little known iPhone app!

If you are interested in the story, check out the RunKeeper marathon website.

I didn’t personally get to see the iPhone run the race, but since my official duties as a Boston Marathon volunteer were done around 2:00 PM, I took to the the streets of Boston to look for other examples of different forms of guerrilla and ambush marketing employed at the event. Perhaps because it was late in the day (or the effects of the floundering economy), but for the most part, I wasn’t impressed.

Dunkin’ Donuts, who as far as I can tell is not an official sponsor of the Marathon (although they do sponsor the Dunkin’ Donuts Cape Cod Marathon) expounded upon their “You Kin’ Do It!” campaign. Representatives were handing out signs reading “You Kin’ Do It!” with an empty space for putting the bib number of a runner you were supporting.

The “You Kin’ Do It” campaign kicked off in January. According to Dunkin’ Donut Brand Marketing Officer Frances Allen, “’You Kin’ Do It’ shines the spotlight on the accomplishments of hard-working Americans, while reinforcing that Dunkin’ Donuts will continue to fuel their busy day and provide a bit of happiness without blowing the lid off their budget.”

I thought it worked. The vast majority of runners in the Boston Marathon are typical, hard-working Americans, so the target market was reached. These signs were prevalent all around the marathon, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they made an appearance in quite a few scrapbooks. I may be biased, as I was walking around with the goal of finding examples of marketing, but they inspired action on my part. I decided to follow Dunkin’ Donuts on Twitter to see what else they were up to. The day after the marathon, they were advertising $0.50 iced coffees, which I took advantage of. For a simple, inexpensive campaign that inspired action, I give them a passing grade!

Another example I witnessed was a crowd of KFC Colonel Sanders advertising “UNFry Day” on Monday, April 27th, while handing out coupons for Kentucky Grilled Chicken.

Posing with the KFC Colonels
Posing with the KFC Colonels

To quote a KFC press release:

“The introduction of Kentucky Grilled Chicken is a defining moment in our brand’s storied history,” said KFC President Roger Eaton. “KGC is the latest menu innovation that showcases our commitment to meeting our customers’ ever-changing needs while staying true to the standards of high quality and great taste pioneered by Colonel Sanders. This product will transform the industry.”

With between 70 to 180 calories and four to nine grams of fat depending on the piece, Kentucky Grilled Chicken provides a non-fried option from a brand America knows and loves.

KFC Declares Monday, April 27 “UNFry Day” and Offers Free Taste Nationwide

KFC is so confident consumers will love the new Kentucky Grilled Chicken, it’s inviting America to sample the newest mouth-watering menu item on “UNFry Day,” Monday, April 27. Consumers are encouraged to stop by KFC throughout the day on “UNFry Day” and receive a FREE piece of Kentucky Grilled Chicken. A full page advertisement will run in USA Today on April 24 to remind Americans to stop by and grab their free piece of Kentucky Grilled Chicken. See for more details.

Kentucky Grilled Chicken Ads Challenge America to UNTHINK KFC

In addition to the UNFry Day national sampling, KFC is also unveiling a new advertising campaign, from DraftFCB Chicago, challenging America to “UNTHINK What You Thought About KFC.” Colonel Sanders’ now-famous fried chicken may have put KFC on the map, but the introduction of grilled chicken shows KFC is not too chicken to think outside the bucket. The TV spot, produced by Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris, contains Kentucky Grilled Chicken endorsements from celebrated chefs Sandra Lee, editor-in-chief of Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Magazine, and TV One’s G. Garvin.

Amidst the clutter of the marathon, the Colonels certainly stood out. Whether people “got it,” I’m not sure. A quick Google search showed only a few hits for “Colonel Sanders Boston Marathon.” A few photos made it to flickr, with mainly confused captions as to why the Colonels were in attendance. Since I’m a vegetarian and won’t be taking action, I’ll leave the effectiveness of this campaign up to your judgment. A cute tactic, I liked it.

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