When an athlete not so much as breaks a sweat, let alone a bone, performing acrobatics on tower-block staircases that would hobble a mountain goat, they have your attention – which is why marketers are keen to jump on the free running “brand-wagon”.
In reality – it’s come a long way as a discipline, as well as a business opportunity. This year, free running has officially been recognised in the UK as a sport after years of being an urban pastime. If you want to experience nail-biting action, free running will always look breathtaking and is impossible not to watch.
Brands continue to lap up this campaign gold for marketing, which is interesting, because free running is so counter-corporate that you might think it could be an embarrassing error of judgment to associate it with an unrelated business.
However, when you look at free running’s message, the lure of its appeal seems more obvious. Free running’s selling points include: overcoming any obstacles, venturing, adapting, precision and speed.
For lighting a fire under social media – it’s also incredibly shareable and “sticky” content in the YouTube era. But to be sure you have a realistic reason to justify a free running campaign, check to see if you trying to achieve any of the following goals?
1) Target a younger demographic
With a “buzz” so loud it gives tinnitus to marketers, free running or parkour provides a catalyst to “cool-up” products and services and crosses consumer generation gaps. Mercedes-Benz’s agency, Razorfish, for example, wanted to keep the luxury aspect of the car brand whilst appealing to younger demographics.
Its campaign, The Ultimate Race featured a race between a parkour athlete, a C-Class Coupe and a radio-controlled car.
The video has amassed well in excess of four and half million views and counting. Even if you are not a customer within a younger demographic, you may still lust after the feeling of being one – so parkour can deliver on that fantasy and products associated with it may find themselves with a varnish of youthfulness.
2) Promote a physical space
With a free runner moving through spaces at speed, this means you can cover environments fast, to great effect. By truly interacting with spaces, the focus is intensified on what’s usually a background. Free running can transform a railing into gym bars and a bollard into a launch pad. Take a campaign by Thomson to promote the cruise ship, Thomson Dream.
It used the services of 3Run Media Ltd, to highlight the new areas of the refurbished ship. The film includes somersaults in the dining room and leaps from deck to deck. It proved that in seconds you can cover the selling points of a cruise ship that’s had millions of pounds spent on its new look, in a way that’s more appealing than slow camera-pans of tables and walkways, with the usual backdrop of elevator music and narration.
Similarly, iconic Cornish tourist attraction Eden Project used parkour marketing magic to show off the interiors of their glass biomes used to house tropical plants. The resulting YouTube video was called A Walk on The Wild Side, featuring free runners Tim “Livewire” Shieff and Pip “Piptrix” Andersen. For a venue that does not have many moving parts, this is a way to inject action in conjunction with the beauty.
3) Highlight a new process
Marketing agency Varn recently decided to use parkour for a campaign for Timbersource, a timber supplier in Somerset – and at the time of writing, it’s about to go into film production. The timber yard provides a great backdrop for the stunts but the strategy for using parkour was primarily to demonstrate the innovation in their service.
Timbersource wanted a marketing campaign to explain that they could provide wood to measure, while you wait. The idea was that a free runner makes an order of wood and then literally follows the process through the timber yard until the order completion – with a variety of hair-raising stunts along the way. To demonstrate a process where speed of service is a key USP, free running mirrors that message effortlessly.
4) Break into health and fitness market
If your product has something to do with diet, clothing or technology within the market of health and fitness there is an obvious fit here for your campaign. Clothing brand Mufti jeans used parkour for a digital-only campaign to demonstrate their jogger jeans are designed to be easier than traditional jeans to move around in.
Any health, fitness or active lifestyle product could do worse than use parkour as its marketing “jumping off” point.
5) To exploit YouTube for campaign longevity
Parkour is very suited to digital-only campaigns – you don’t need to turn to traditional broadcast channels and costs. The great thing about a film with a YouTube presence means it’s a “fixed advert” that accumulates views year on year – so it’s ideal for promoting a permanent tourist attraction or long running service.
Campaign longevity is assured and there are SEO benefits. YouTube is the second biggest social media but is too often sidelined by companies unsure how to use it to best effect.
Of course, it’s not rocket science why free running suits marketing, but it is far more adaptable in terms of what it can promote, than some marketers may consider. Next time you want to find a way to emphasise innovation, fast service or an amazing space, just think what parkour could do for your client – it might be a leap in the right direction.
Thanks to Timbersource for use of image.
Richard Forsyth is a business writer and founder of Find a Creative Pro Ltd.