May 15, 2017

#Breaking2: How Nike Set A New PR for Sports Marketing


On a brisk morning in early May, Nike brought together three mega athletes, Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese on a private track in Monza, Italy, with the goal of setting a world record and breaking the physiologically impossible two-hour marathon barrier.

With a slew of scientists on board, Nike launched the race with carefully calculated conditions, a complete athlete hydration strategy and an elite — albeit noncompliant — arrangement of runners who raced ahead to set the pace and reduce drag for the competing runners. Nike began preparing Kipchoge, Desisa and Tadese for the Breaking2 “moonshot” project back in 2014 and went public with the project in December 2016, in conjunction with Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes (worn by the athletes).

Although the Breaking2 initiative came up an (excruciatingly!) 26 seconds short of breaking the two-hour marathon barrier, those results haven’t stopped Nike from captivating the narrative around human potential and inevitably setting a new PR for sports marketing.

By the numbers, the three runners attempted to shave three minutes off the world marathon record, with a pace of 13.1 miles per hour, or a 4:34 minute mile. Meanwhile, Nike marketers made waves with:

  • Celebrity attendees and comedian host, Kevin Hart.
  • Shout-outs from competitors.
  • More than 5 million views on the Facebook Live Stream.
  • More than 5 million views on a shorter clip highlighting Kipchoge’s finish.
  • A world record for hashtag impressions, with more than 2 trillion impressions on #Breaking2 according to data crunched by Brandwatch.

In the spirit of full transparency, Nike paid the three runners to skip the Berlin and London marathons this year and Kipchoge’s time doesn’t quite qualify for the official world record. But the Breaking2 marathon goes beyond brilliant marketing to deliver a truly compelling story of pushing past what was once considered humanly impossible.