Chilean Hero 'Running Man' Proves Why Marketers Love The ING NYC Marathon

By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor

November 1, 2010: What does it take to be successful in the ING NYC Marathon? For Meb Keflezighi and Derartu Tulu, the ING New York City Marathon 2009 men's and women's champions, respectively, it is a lifetime of training, focus, determination and a passion to keep running when others stop.

For title sponsor ING; principal sponsors including Asics, Continental Airlines, Foot Locker, The New York Times and Timex; and such signature and supporting sponsors as Coors Light, Dunkin' Donuts, Emerald Nuts, Gatorade, Nissan, Poland Spring, PowerBar, Subway, Tiffany and UPS, it is not just launching a marathon marketing campaign, but actually being part of the marathon nation.

ING has been title sponsor since 2003, and as a spokeperson for the financial firm put it, "The challenge is always to raise the bar and improve on what we've done." There are 31 sponsors for the 2010 event, and several have been aligned with it for more than a decade, including Continental (1994), Poland Spring (1995), Gatorade (1997), UPS (1997) and Asics (1999).

Among the 43,000 participants will be a bevy of celebrities, many running for charitable causes. Joining in either as a guest runner will be Edison Peña, who was among the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean coal mine for 69 days. Peña, who ran upward of six miles a day during his ordeal to help stay in shape and to keep his mind occupied, was invited by Mary Wittenberg, president of New York Road Runners, the organization that oversees the ING NYC Marathon. Wittenberg confirmed that Peña had accepted the invitation during a pre-Marathon media event.

The appearance of Peña, whose survival tactics underground earned him the nickname "The Runner"  (and whose love of Elvis Presley music also became part of his story; he also has been invited to Graceland) is likely to overshadow the participation of celebrities including Bobby Flay, Amani Toomer, Edward Norton, Robin Quivers, and Subway spokesman Jared Fogle.

A microsite at Subway's Web site enables fans and consumers to follow Jared Fogle's 2010 ING NYC Marathon journey.According to Wittenberg, who has been president and CEO of NYRR since 2005 (and is also a participant), the Road Runners will arrange for his travel and cover his entry fees. "He absolutely, 100% wants to participate. [This] is all about inspiration and perseverance, and those values were never more evident than during the survival and rescue of Edison and his brothers in that mine. [Edison Peña] also demonstrated how running can play an important role in our physical and emotional well-being under any circumstances.”

Subway is among the rookie marketers, having signed as an "official training partner" this year. The QSR franchise is using the event to tout its healthy options across the nation, but finds it particularly influential for its more than 200 locations in the New York area. Fogle, a customer-turned-spokesman who has been the face of the franchise for about a decade, has appeared in national TV and POP ads. Among others, Meb Keflezighi has appeared in Subway marathon marketing.

"It is not just talk — the athletes who endorse Subway eat at Subway," said Tony Pace, CMO for the franchise that has turned "$5 foot-long" into a marketing mantra. "We are showing that our sandwiches are part of a healthy, active lifestyle."

The ING New York City Marathon calls itself the "largest one-day live sporting event in the world," and backs up the claim with numbers that whet the appetites of marketing partners: More than 43,000 finishers in 2009, two million spectators and a worldwide television audience of 315 million.

"[This] is all about inspiration and perseverance, values never more evident than during the survival and rescue of Edison and his brothers in that mine."

Back in the day, those numbers might have seemed astronomical when race patriarch Fred Lebow organized the first event in 1970 and just 55 of some 127 participants completed the course that ran several times around Central Park. Since then, the course has expanded to include all five boroughs of New York City, has been the jumping off point for numerous Olympic medalists and has aligned under the umbrella World Marathon Majors with races in Chicago, London, Berlin and, perhaps the most iconic marathon, Boston.

In addition, high-impact organizations such as the American Cancer Society and Livestrong are among the 86 groups that will have representatives running in the 2010 Marathon seeking to raise funds and awareness for their respective organizations. This year's combined goal is to top $26 million.

What this means is that partners who are part of the New York marathon get a global bang for their bucks.

However, not everyone who wants to get into the race is given a spot. "I get a lot of calls from agents who want their [celebrity] clients to be part of Subway marketing," said Pace. "The first thing I ask is, 'What Subway sandwich does your client eat?' If they say, 'Uh . . . Uh . . . Uh . . . Tuna . . . ' I say, 'Not so interested.'"

(This article has updates from a story originally published by MediaPost on Oct. 26.)

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