Abbott Demonstrates The Value of Experiential Marketing At The Chicago Marathon


Can you keep up with Eliud Kipchoge? That was the question that Abbott Health posed at the recent 2018 Chicago Marathon expo. Attendees of the 2018 Chicago Marathon expo were asked to try to maintain Kipchoge’s 2:01:39 marathon pace for “only” 200 meters. Some were successful while many others unfortunately achieved “hilarious results.”

Abbott Health’s goal clearly was not to make attendees, even marathon runners, potentially look foolish by trying to keep up with Kipchoge even for a short time. Instead, the company was likely trying to create an authentic connection with an audience likely to contain its target demographic in a way that would encourage people to engage with the brand.

That is the promise of experiential marketing with sports. More specifically, sports create unique environments where companies can reach their customers in novel ways not available to other rights holders.

Abbott is a good example. Abbott’s primary mission is to “[help] the people who use our products achieve better health.” The Chicago Marathon enabled Abbott Health to create a novel activation to reach this audience. Many marathon runners complete races knowing that they are not going to set a world record pace like Kipchoge. They run marathons to achieve better health and look for companies that can help achieve these goals.

It is not just the runners themselves. The marathon is one of the biggest events annually attracting thousands of spectators and hundreds of companies all focused on health. This audience is clearly a good fit for Abbott so it makes sense that the company would want to sponsor this event.

While audience fit is critical, engaging with a company’s target demographic is arguably more important. Most marathon runners and their families understand they will never really have the opportunity to run against a world-record holder. Top runners often start earlier than other participants and can be 30 minutes into a race before the average runner even begins. 

The Chicago Marathon expo provided Abbott Health with an opportunity to create this experience via the expo. Its customers could not only literally see Abbott’s commitment to better health, but it is also enabled the company to showcase the Abbott World Marathon Majors series to an audience that is naturally interested in these events. More specifically, this activation creates an opportunity for Abbott to have a longer impact with this demographic beyond the Chicago Marathon itself.   

The challenge with experiential marketing in the past has been quantifying the ROI of this type of sponsorship. More specifically, experiential marketing activations usually only reach a relatively small audience. Around 45,000 runners compete in the Chicago Marathon and have to attend the expo to pick up their raceday information. Even accounting for their families, corporate attendees, and social / earned media exposure, Abbott’s activation at the marathon reaches a smaller audience as compared with other larger sporting events. 

The size of the audience should definitely be a consideration when factoring in the ROI of a sponsorship. However, the quality of the audience to the company and level of engagement is equally, if not more, important. As demonstrated in previous B6A blog posts, companies are looking for ways to have deeper interactions with audiences that will drive significant business results. Abbott’s activation at the Chicago Marathon expo demonstrates a great way for a company to leverage a rights holder’s assets to achieve this goal.  

This type of activation should and likely does deliver a significant ROI to Abbott. Yet, standard impression-based metrics (i.e., CPM) would not account for the full value because the quantity of people at the expo is relatively low. That is one of the core reasons why we built B6A’s Corporate Asset Valuation Model (CAV) to focus on both quality and engagement. Looking at fit and level of interaction an audience has with a sponsorship activation are central components to how we calculate value. Abbott’s Chicago Marathon expo activation is a good example of why we took this approach