Inside ING's First New York City Marathon Sponsorship - Event Marketer

Inside ING’s First New York City Marathon Sponsorship

DB_ING_2004 Ex
Brand: ING
Year: 2004

Other sponsors have attempted the New York City Marathon over the years, but none have come close to activating the largest one-day sporting event on Earth—attended by 2.5 million people and broadcast to 275 million viewers in 116 territories—like ING did last fall.

The financial-services company, together with GMR Marketing, activated its first ING New York City Marathon from the inside out and the outside in with one of the most integrated event marketing campaigns ever. 

Guerilla elements literally sent field crews door-to-door to get New Yorkers pumped up. Street components set up Cheering Zones along the marathon route. A trade show exhibit got runners and spectators talking while hospitality elements brought top partners and prospects to the Big Apple to have fun, and do some business.

ING stretched the effort outside the city that never sleeps into its corporate offices across the U.S. And the community outreach star of its show—the Run for Something Better program—had city parks adopting runners who ran to win their borough additional funding.  “This was the perfect storm,” says ING head of U.S. advertising and sponsorships Steve Baskin. “It was big, and it was bold.”

It was all that and more, a fully integrated platform used as a collective to achieve not one but a series of goals. “Marketers can no longer throw money at a property and hope for something that works,” says GMR Marketing executive vp Rick Arnstein. “We developed something we knew would work.”

Not only did ING make New York its own, but the company did so in a way that actually enhanced the property it was leveraging, complemented the city it was invading, and created a better experience for everyone involved. That’s the very definition of event marketing—and that’s the very reason why the 2004 Ex Award judges handed ING and GMR Marketing this year’s—cue those oohs and ahhs—top trophy.

It began with a 2002 research project inside ING’s global headquarters probing the world of sponsorships. The company wanted to attach to something, but it had to be the right something. More than 100 types of sponsorships were analyzed, investigated, computed, and surveyed. 

Running came up on top. Why? Because it’s a true global sport unhindered by cultural or language differences (ING operates in 65 countries). The sport is also surprisingly upscale, with running being a common passion among business leaders (385 ceos ran the Marathon in New York City last fall). Most of all, the attributes of running are a perfect analogy for financial planning. “You set a goal, you build a plan, and you stick to that plan over the long haul,” says Baskin.

So ING as a global corporation began moving forward with plans to embrace the sport on a worldwide basis. Title sponsorships of races in Amsterdam, Brussels, Ottawa, Taipei, and others were secured. New York City became the first U.S. race. Four additional deals around the world are being worked on as you read this, and ING is prepping its grand plan: The World Marathon Ranking, the first-ever global points system to determine the best marathoner in the world, which culminates at the 2005 ING New York City Marathon.

In early 2003, GMR was brought in via Omnicom sister (and ING ad agency) DDB to negotiate, manage, and build the program. “Gone are the days when we were hired to simply execute a program,” says Gary Reynolds, now ceo of Omnicom’s Radiate Group event family. “Live marketing is now truly integrated.”

The NYC deal was not an easy one to make. In 35 years of the race, the Road Runners had never allowed a title sponsor in the door. But ING was devoted to making the Marathon a better event—for runners, for spectators, for the city. To put its money where its mouth was, the brand built into the contract an “enhancement” element through which ING dedicates a portion of annual activation dollars to “improving” the race.

It was unprecedented for the Road Runners. “They proved that they believed in this race and wanted to grow it,” says Ann Hinegardner, chief marketing officer with the Road Runners. “We were sold.”

The Road Runners uncorked the three-year title deal (with options) in June, giving the sponsor and the team at GMR New York just six months to make it all happen. Come November, everything fell into place when ING came to town with a plan that went wayyyy beyond the typical activation. “We didn’t want to become a part of the skin of the race,” says Baskin. “We wanted to become a part of the DNA of the race.”

He’s not kidding. Street teams went door-to-door in all five boroughs handing out fliers (that folded into megaphones) to get the public jazzed. ING set up the tented Cheering Zones throughout the race course to generate awareness, provide a rallying point for communities to cheer on runners, and extend the reach of the event beyond traditional locations. The Zones featured wireless devices consumers used to check real-time progress of runners, two large monitors broadcasting live coverage, snacks, and a local DJ. Spectators were given “Go!” signs they customized with a runner’s name, pompoms, balloons, and kazoos. (Naturally, the course was “oranged up” with ING’s favorite color.)

At the annual Health and Fitness Expo, the ING exhibit showcased more than static messages. GMR slapped a camera on top of a police cruiser and videotaped the entire 26.2-mile route, then played the Fly Through video at the exhibit in fast motion (over seven minutes). Thousands came by to get a look at the course, while ING staffers talked up the company and its offerings and handed out custom ING Pace Wristbands that let runners know if they were ahead or behind at each marker.

But the heart of ING’s activation, and the result of that annual “enhancement” element, was the Run for Something Better initiative. ING worked with the city parks department to “adopt” four public parks (Thomas Jefferson Park in Manhattan, Astoria Park in Queens, and McCarren Park and Red Hook Park in Brooklyn). The brand then selected four female Marathon contenders and paired each with one of the parks—the women ran to raise capital improvement funding for “their” parks.

Never in all the years of the Marathon had New York communities come out of their homes and banded together like this. “Often companies come in and tell us what they need,” says New York City Parks & Recreation commissioner Adrian Benepe. “ING found out what we needed first.”

The program burrowed the brand and the property into the concrete of Gotham City, enhancing the event and stretching the newly acquired equity into ING offices around the nation (there were 47 Marathon-themed events staged at ING campuses prior to race weekend).

The company recognized runners and helped improve their experience. The company embraced the city and did what it could to give fans a better connection to the race. And Run for Something Better put money into the city’s park system during a tough financial time and gave the Road Runners a program it could activate during the off-season. “We balanced marketing and community service to create a strategic plan that proved a winner,” says Arnstein. “It was a textbook way of thinking about event marketing in a way that is strategic, tactical, and measurable.”

For ING, the sponsorship pulled all the levers. It weaved the brand throughout one of the financial world’s greatest markets and touched consumers in relevant ways. It took clients into an ING world that was about more than a spreadsheet. And it served to help complete the company’s global mission of owning the sport of running.

“We measure a lot, in both soft and hard ways,” says Baskin. “We saw a big boost in awareness and a huge jump in perceived attributes. Intent to purchase moved up, favorability increased dramatically, and when you put it all together it says one thing: We got a lot out of this.”  em

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