SBJ/September 24-30, 2012/In Depth

BofA using Chicago Marathon to thank troops

During Bank of America’s six-year run as title sponsor of the Chicago Marathon, it has activated around the U.S. women’s national soccer team, youth fitness initiatives and the Susan G. Komen cancer fund. For 2012, the bank will bring the U.S. armed forces to the forefront, as the bank’s digital and on-site Express Your Thanks activation pays homage to veterans.

“The [Express Your Thanks] program provides us with tremendous reach; it’s an opportunity to integrate into a broader market,” said Charles Greenstein, senior vice president of sponsorship marketing for Bank of America. “We’ve been supporting the military for 90 years and this was another demonstration.”

The centerpiece of the activation will be a 12-foot by 25-foot American flag mosaic at the race’s living exhibit expo, constructed entirely out of branded Bank of America water bottles. In the weeks leading up to the Oct. 7 event, 175 Bank of America locations in the greater Chicago area have allowed customers to sign and write thank-you notes on the colored bottles, which will then be used to build out the mosaic.

Bank of America’s Express Your Thanks campaign will be highlighted at this year’s event.
Photo by: Getty Images
Online, the bank is asking customers to submit photos via the photo-sharing application Instagram to a branded website displaying acts of gratitude toward the armed services. For every submitted photo and signed bottle, Bank of America will donate $1 to the Wounded Warrior Project. The bank hopes to raise $250,000 for the charity.

On site, the bank has constructed a large wall mural along the race course. It also has branded the final mile of the 26.2-mile race with its Merrill Lynch brand.

Bank of America has held firm ownership over the Chicago Marathon since 2008, after the bank purchased the race’s former title sponsor, LaSalle Bank. Greenstein said this year’s activation is an extension of the strategy the bank used at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Kansas City in July. At that event, fans signed whiffle balls that were then used in a mosaic at the expo. Bank of America raised money for the USO center at Fort Riley, Kan., at that event.

Greenstein declined to say whether Bank of America had increased its total activation spending at the marathon for 2012. He said the Express Your Thanks campaign would be prevalent at its other sports properties this year, including NFL and MLB games and October’s Bank of America 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“It’s one of the first times we’ve come together in an aggregated fashion to put them all under a cause-related thematic,” he said.

The bank’s activation highlights a series of additions for 2012. The race’s four-hour live broadcast on local NBC Channel 5 is double what it previously had. Technology partner Tata Consultancy Services has developed a smartphone application for Android, iPhone/iPad and BlackBerry that allows fans and spectators to track up to five runners along the course, another first for the race.

The ING New York City Marathon released a free application in 2011 to track athletes, but the application reportedly suffered glitches on race day due to the volume of fans and spectators.

Andrew Greenwood, head of marketing for TCS, said the company has used the application successfully at marathons in
Mumbai, India, and Amsterdam. He said the company was conscious of the stress put on applications by a large crowd.

“We’ve scaled [the application] in a way to deal with the volume,” Greenwood said. “It’s something we’re aware of. We’re confident it will be successful.”

Race officials declined to say how activation or total sponsorship revenue had fluctuated from 2011. The race lost one official partner, Marathon Foto, from 2011, but added State Farm and electronics manufacturer Philips to its associate sponsor roster (officials declined to give values for the categories).

Race director Carey Pinkowski said major brands such as Nike and Gatorade would continue to offer branded cheering stations along the course. He said Nike also will operate its Northside/Southside Challenge, a shorter race for local high school students run before the professional athletes finish.

“Our sponsorship has evolved; traditionally it was a branding play,” Pinkowski said. “Now sponsors are analyzing our event above the signage and reaching to our participants and spectators.”

Fred Dreier is a writer in New York City.

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