SBJ/April 14-20, 2014/In Depth

Boston Marathon sponsors rally around event

Boston Marathon sponsors never hesitated to be associated with an event that was mired by tragedy just one year ago. Instead, most have ramped up activation with increased charitable efforts.

Although each sponsor seems to have a different theme or anthem to celebrate Boston, most are united in the effort to raise money for the One Fund, which was set up to help those affected by last year’s bombings. And with the number of spectators expected to double to 1 million, several sponsors are using social media to commemorate last year’s tragedy and show support for the city.

“We’ve received fantastic, overwhelming and unbridled support from all of our sponsors,” said T.K. Skenderian, marketing and sponsorship manager for the Boston Athletic Association, the race organizer.

The association has a roster of 21 sponsors for the April 21 race, including two new partners in Boston Magazine and yogurt brand Stonyfield. As expected, those sponsors stepped carefully as they crafted their messaging and activation around this year’s event.

“I was thinking about an all-encompassing way to describe the way we are approaching 2014,” said Rob Friedman, John Hancock’s assistant vice president of sponsorship and event marketing. “I think it’s fair to say that after the tragedy, all internal and external corporate communication, creation or sustainment of events, corporate partnering, and corporate culture were reflective and mindful of the senseless acts of terror of 4/15. Our focus now is to turn evil into good and tragedy into triumph.”

Here are highlights of activation plans among event sponsors:

John Hancock: Primary sponsor John Hancock, in its 29th year as a race partner, unveiled more than 500
banners, with special honor banners hung at Marathon Sports and the Forum Restaurant, where the bombs went off last year.

The banners from last year were saved and crafted into wristbands that will be given to all 36,000 participants.
Those not running the race can buy the bands for a minimum $5 donation to the One Fund at the John Hancock runners expo or at www.crowdrise.com/braceletsforboston.

In addition, John Hancock will be handing out blue and gold bumper stickers, pins and tattoos bearing the image of the company’s race trademark: a heart with the word Boston and a road running through it. Outside of race weekend, John Hancock has created an online mosaic to encourage participants, fans and the public to “Share Their Love for Boston.” John Hancock handles its creative in-house.

The Boston Athletic Association and city officials on Tuesday, exactly one year from last year’s race, are hosting an invitation-only tribute at Hynes Convention Center, with John Hancock producing a video to air during the tribute.
John Hancock additionally every year provides the video board at the finish line, and this year will have the screen in place a week early to simulcast the tribute to the public on Boylston Street.

“The marathon is about courage and resilience and community,” Friedman said. “We stand by our city, our community partners, the runners and the Boston Athletic Association as we unite in recovery and in renewal of our commitment to the Boston Marathon.”

Adidas: Adidas this year has created a fluorescent orange Celebration Jacket, which initially drew some backlash in the market. But Adidas America Running Director Mikal Peveto said the jacket is not only the
biggest seller of the Boston Marathon line, but that sales figures are trumping all previous years.

“The Celebration Jacket is a topic of discussion every year,” Peveto said. “This year is of course heightened because the Boston Marathon itself is heightened. But the sell-through rates have never been better.”

A percentage of the proceeds from Celebration Jacket and adizero Boston Boost shoe sales at the runner expo and online will go toward the One Fund. Meanwhile, the company — in partnership with the Boston Athletic Association and Marathon Sports — has created a 50-team One Fund group with a goal of raising $500,000 to donate to the charity.

In addition, the company is activating socially with 26.2 days of Boston stories through its #WeAllRunBoston platform, which encourages runners across the globe to share personal stories.

AT&T: AT&T is taking a three-part approach with its activation.

The company will continue its AT&T Athlete Alert program, in which participants can receive updates via mobile
on where runners are along the course. There are more than 100,000 people registered for the program and about 75 percent of all runners in the 2013 marathon had at least one person following them through the program.

The telecommunications provider also will supply the finish line with five communications centers, up from three last year. Runners will be able to make free domestic and international calls from 40 phones. The centers this year also will offer cellphone charging stations.

In addition, AT&T is creating a digital mosaic where people can upload either photos or videos to support a runner, victim or the city of Boston. The mosaic lives at ItsOurBoston.com. AT&T went to market April 1 with a vehicle around New England equipped with phones to record video or capture photos. Fans nationally are encouraged to upload photos through the website, Twitter or Instagram. Additionally, AT&T will have a photo booth at the expo where fans can contribute to the mosaic. For every submission to the mosaic, AT&T will donate $1 to the One Fund.

Poland Spring: Poland Spring, working with agency Ryan Partnership, will continue to focus its activation
around Mile 19. In addition to the past festivities of a DJ, branded volunteers, Thunderstix, cow bells and an inflatable water bottle, the company this year is adding two interactive screens with messaging prompts, capturing runners passing the mile marker and displaying crowd shots. The screens also will have a call to action, asking viewers to donate to the One Fund.

Meanwhile, the company has sent 16 million 24- and 35-pack cases to the Northeast New England marketplace with branding on its wrapping. This marks the first time the company has presented a cause on its packaging.
Poland Spring made a straight donation to the One Fund, with the packaging encouraging consumers to also donate.

JetBlue: JetBlue will activate largely on the day of the marathon, with a home page takeover on Boston.com. The company also is making a straight donation to the One Fund.

JetBlue will have crew members on the ground to hand out cue cards that can display messages of encouragement to runners, and will hand out 25,000 bags of Terra Blues potato chips to runners at the finish line.

Theresa Manahan is a writer in Boston.
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