This past weekend in Italy, Nike brought together a trio of legendary runners who attempted to break the 2-hour barrier for a full marathon run. While none of the runners were successful, the marketing and product innovation centered around the event was one for the record books.
According to Adweek, “Breaking2” is what Nike calls a “moonshot,” partially inspired by Sir Roger Bannister running the first 4-minute mile in 1954 and redefining what athletes were capable of.
Nike and its agency, Wieden + Kennedy, have been planning Breaking2 for “a long time.” Aside from deciding on the right runners for the challenge (Nike selected Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa and Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese) and choosing the optimal running location, Nike also equipped the runners with a specially designed lightweight racing flat to ensure peak performance.
The shoe design has been in the works for a few years and was modified after initial feedback from the athletes. The resulting lightweight, resilient and soft-padded Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite includes carbon-fiber plating for added propulsion.
And while each runner was paid to skip this year’s London and Berlin Marathons in order to invest in this effort, the fact they would forego official record-holder titles to take on this challenge for Nike is a testament to the company’s power as a serious athletic brand and a marketing powerhouse, says Adweek.
Fortunately, it paid off: The race was broadcast live exclusively on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, garnering more than 486,000 views on YouTube and a whopping 5.2 million views on Facebook. On Twitter, the #breaking2 hashtag is still going strong. A Breaking2 documentary is slated for release this summer in collaboration with National Geographic, and the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite will go on sale sometime this year.
Of course, competitors are also jumping on the bandwagon, with Adidas planning its own sub-2:00 run, as well as a shoe launch. But this isn’t the end of the road for Nike.
“We are already discussing other moonshots, perhaps related to female athletes,” said VP Matt Nurse of the Nike Sport Research Lab. “It’s not one and done, it just may take a different form next time.”