Sportswear brands New Balance and Nike show how to nudge runners towards achieving their goals, writes WARC’s Chiara Manco.

January harshly tosses us back into routine against a backdrop of ads imploring us to become ‘the best version of ourselves’. This is often shorthand for cutting down the calories, joining the gym and taking up / returning to running. So when brands depart from this dominant narrative, or find a new twist to explore, it’s heartily welcomed.

Relocating runners… to the pub

That’s what New Balance did when the sportswear brand set out to build a meaningful connection with runners through its sponsorship of the London Marathon. While most runners are familiar with tracking apps from sportswear brands – in fact, Nike claims that they are marathon runners’ number one companion – New Balance went further. It used digital wallets and tracking apps in a disruptive way to bring together London’s running community… over a pint.

Spreading the joy

New Balance, with its agency VMLY&R, recognised that the London Marathon is about community; the feeling of support and achievement on the day itself is incredible. Yet the training is tough and often, when runners are training during the cold, dark months of January and February, they feel isolated. While many sports brands support runners’ training through functional tools, New Balance realised that what they really need is camaraderie and support. What better way to provide that than through a post-run pint at the pub?

So in February 2019, it opened The Runaway pub specifically for runners. Located in central London, the pub accepted miles as currency, using the Strava tracking app to convert distance ran into pint credits.

Many runners already used Strava to track their training runs, so New Balance created four challenges within the app, with each one focused on a different training milestone. Miles logged during the challenges translated into currency via a card that runners could add to their Apple or Google wallet, ready to be redeemed for pints at The Runaway. For those looking to squeeze in a little workout before their beer, the pub also featured a gym area with weights, as well as a space to have a post-run stretch.

Reframing training

Instead of pushing runners to train harder, encouraging them to perform better or run for longer, New Balance sought to meet their emotional needs. It moved away from performance-tracking to support mental wellbeing, rewarding runners with a space where they could enjoy much-needed off time and company with fellow runners.

The initiative earned 30m impressions. More than half the number of the 2019 London Marathon runners – 23,000 – added the pub card to their digital wallets, and 63,000 pints were redeemed at The Runaway, earned through a total of 532,000 miles ran. This concept took a Silver in Product/Service Creation at the recent Jay Chiat Awards.

And for the diehards…

Of course, for those runners for whom a pint would be counter-intuitive in the lead-up to a marathon (and we salute your commitment), Nike in China rewarded those training for a marathon with the chance to purchase a pair of running shoes deemed to be the fastest in the world. The Next% campaign, through Mindshare China, created huge impact for the brand, because it rewarded only the most dedicated runners and engaged audiences by creating scarcity of product, a sure-fire way create buzz.

Next% engaged nearly 1.5 million unique users, and 918,000 of them wanted to see if their pace was fast enough to qualify to purchase the shoe. If it wasn’t, they were redirected to other products. This was a smart way to drive desire and keep those runners who weren’t fast enough sufficiently motivated to keep going with their training. It showed these runners that, if they increase their speed, they’ll qualify for more premium products that will further enhance their performance. This case study took a Gold in the WARC Media Awards’ Best Use of Data category.

Nudging for success

Brands should be thinking about how they can nudge people towards ‘good’ behaviour with appropriate rewards and treats which, à la New Balance, means thinking a little more laterally and considering mental as well as physical wellbeing.