CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- With interest in marathons at an all-time high, marketers are increasingly trying to keep pace and get in front of what's considered a highly desirable consumer. Nowhere is this more apparent than during next weekend's ING New York City Marathon.
Just how hot have marathons become? Last week, the registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon was over in eight hours, and that's for a race runners have to qualify for. According to Running USA, about 467,000 runners crossed the finish line at U.S. marathons in 2009. Last year an estimated 470 marathons were held, up 5.6% from 2008.
For the ING New York City Marathon, which takes place Nov. 7, more than 120,000 people paid an application fee just to enter a lottery for a shot at running. Of that, about 45,000 are expected to finish. Last year's 43,660 finishers made the race's 40th edition the largest marathon ever.
And by all accounts, those finishers are a sought-after demo: They're highly educated, high earners and in most cases they travel and spend on hospitality. Almost a third of New York's field is from abroad.
The benefit to sponsors, said Bob Boland, a professor of sports business at New York University's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, is marathoners are "a pre-qualified demo: You're getting interest and commonality, as opposed to having to attract them on their own."
For ING, which became the New York Marathon's first title sponsor in 2003, the race has been an ideal way for the marketer to reach its target consumer. "The parallels between running and preparing for your financial future speaks to our customers," said ING America's chief marketing officer, Ann Glover. ING translates that attribute in its messaging, often featuring images of runners. The point is to remind those planning for their retirement that, like running a marathon, "you're in it for the long haul," she said.
From a demographic and psychographic standpoint, the marathon touches all quadrants, she said. But runners in particular are "planners and deliberate and they do their best to achieve their goals," which is the type of customer ING is trying to reach, she added.
The return on ING's investment, which it declined to reveal, has been the brand's increased presence in New York. Ms. Glover said: "Our research has shown that, following the event, there is an increase in attributes such as brand recognition and trust, interest in doing business with ING and the intent to recommend our products and services to others."