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The Nike+ Human Race: How One Corporate Marketing Stunt Became the Grandest Single Athletic Event of All Time


There are many things about the world today that converge in the context of planned events. The events profession being in the business of creating value out of human gatherings, much of the discussions we have within the industry center around the subject of how corporate messaging, digital engagement, and live interactions integrate to create what is the modern social experience for today’s generation. Most of the industry’s practices are still in experimentation. Event producers are still for the most part playing the role of keeping-up, in terms of our relationships with new technologies and attendee expectations for how to be engaged. Very rarely does one event truly create the optimal synergy between these three elements of corporate, digital, and live to achieve ultimate influence. But, from the perspective of case studies, Nike’s production of The Nike+ Human Race might just be the greatest example the world has seen to date.

The date was August 31st, 2008. The world’s inspiration by the Summer Olympics had yet to simmer down, and Nike decided to utilize this energy to create what became one of the most successful marketing events in the history of business.

The Nike+, just in case we’re not on the same page yet about this, is the tech branch of Nike that creates gadgets for runners to digitize their running experiences. This venture started back in 2006 with a corporate partnership deal struck between Nike and Apple, which created the original longform name called Nike+iPod. Lots of runners like to listen to music while they run. So, when the iPod Touch came out in 2008, a natural extention feature Nike synergized into this habit was to allow people to seamlessly track their running data (time, distance, etc.) into the device they were carrying anyway. The venture is still around today and continues to be a tremendous success, with some 20 million users from around the world. The Nike+ Human Race though was a one time event held in 2008, a marketing stunt by motivation, but one that really ended up creating a movement that inspired the world.

Given the name, the Nike+ was obviously and justifiably, the soul of the Nike+ Human Race. Between the Nike+iPod and the Nike web portal for this event, people could participate from anywhere in the world, as long as they had the Nike+ and internet access. From Nike’s end, the concept was simple enough. Participants can choose to run however they please on the day of the event, and then they can upload the results tracked from the Nike+ onto the Nike website. That was it.

Well. There ended up being over 750,000 runners who participated in this event that day from all over the globe. Together through the aggregated data, these participants ran a total of 802,242 miles, 32x the circumference of the earth. Grassroots communities formed from all over the place leading up to this event, with people pledging certain distances and joining groups to run together, and even 24 cities organizing their own citywide 10K Run events. Charities were benefitted, organized by the grassroots communities, participating cities, and Nike themselves who partnered with Livestrong. It was a marketing event that quite literally moved the world; epic to proportions humankind had never seen before.

The greatest genius of the Nike+ campaign was the level of synergy it created between corporate messaging, digital engagement, and live interactions. Like I said earlier, you look at any event in the world today, and you’ll find that very few productions can achieve truly optimal synergy between these three elements. Event producers tend to overemphasize one, underutilize another, awkwardly attempt to integrate a third without real impact, and often end up in a disaster of an experience by the metric of influence achieved. I’m all for the industry’s conventional wisdom of focusing on objectives and bottom line, but I maintain the thesis that too many people see only short-term potential for event influence, just because an event itself tend to be by definition a fleeting moment.

Looking to the example of the Nike+ Human Race, I can tell you that I for one am not a runner. The only reason I heard about the Nike+ was because of this event. Did hearing about it inspire me to go buy a Nike+ kit? No. But it sure did elevate my respect for the work Nike Inc. is doing, and the genius of how they do it. Of all the formats of corporate messaging today’s companies have at their disposal, that kind of bond is one that only planned events can create.

See you at the next exploration!



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