Earlier this month, Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge ran the fastest marathon on record, clocking in at 2 hours and 25 seconds.

But this feat wasn’t in the hopes of winning a medal, and wasn’t run as part of an official race – in fact, the record won’t even stand, as Kipchoge had pace setters running along with him. The attempt to run a sub-two-hour marathon was arranged as a marketing stunt by Nike.

Kipchoge and several other athletes were paid to forfeit running in this year’s Berlin and London marathons, and instead take to the track in Italy, in partnership with Nike.

The quick-finish marathon attempt, also undertaken by two other athletes, was named #Breaking2 by the sports brand. The event was attended by celebs, and coverage hosted by Kevin Hart. The hashtag was promoted on Twitter, and the event was livestreamed on the platform, as well as on Facebook Live – where it’s now received over 5 million views.

It has been compared to the Red Bull Stratos Jump – it’s sports marketing, taken to the extreme. That the runners did not break the barrier doesn’t make the stunt a failure; if anything, it goes to show how difficult a challenge has been set.

David Peters, sports marketing specialist at Value Xchange, describes such events as “ownable” for these brands – having only to imply that the energy drink, or the sports apparel, might have helped these athletes in their feats, and instead focusing on associating the brand with ground-breaking innovation, record-breaking firsts, and with big, truly never-been-done-before accomplishments.

Sports marketing doesn’t have to mean sponsoring big name athletes, but can, budgets-allowing, involve integration of a brand with the sport itself. Nike doesn’t just sponsor Mo Farah; it is trying to stand for, and change the history of, long-distance running.

For other brands, the lesson here is that sports marketing doesn’t have to involve sponsoring ready-made tournaments, or branding your name on a competition, but can mean hosting an event of your own – even it’s not as large-scale and big-budget as a marathon attempt – as long as it’s in-keeping with your brand’s strategy.

As a content marketing campaign, meanwhile, #Breaking2 succeeded in that it produced an engaging story, and a shareable video, that also happened to be an ad campaign, rather than an ad campaign worked up to generate content. It wasn’t just an event the marketing team threw some money at; it was an all-involved attempt, bringing in Nike’s technical specialists, sports researchers, hydration experts, pace runners, and some of the world’s top athletes.
Adidas is now planning its own sub two-hour marathon attempt, having launched its Adizero Sub2 shoe back in February – so for the giants of sporting apparel, it is now, quite literally, a race to the finish line.