By  on October 28, 2009

The ING New York City Marathon on Sunday is more than a 26.2-mile test of endurance and character — it’s a major marketing opportunity.

Companies ranging from Asics, the marathon’s apparel and footwear sponsor, to DKNY and Tiffany & Co. will tap into the international attention the race generates with specially branded merchandise, events and other promotions.

The marathon, which is marking its 40th anniversary this year, has come a long way from 127 runners who paid a $1 entry fee to race several times around Central Park. There will be about 42,000 marathoners from around the world on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge when the race starts. They were picked from among 105,000 people who applied to participate. The race is seen by millions on the streets of the five boroughs as well as on television and on the Internet.

The race “is our Super Bowl,” said Gary Slayton, vice president of marketing for Asics.

To mark the anniversary, New York Road Runners, which stages the race, is working to “broaden the reach” of the marathon and engage spectators and nonparticipants, including family and friends of the runners, said Ann Crandall, senior vice president of business development and marketing for the group.

In a program called Honor Your Marathoner, NYRR has established a partnership with Tiffany, Italian Wine Merchants and ProFlowers on gifts for that special runner. There are 12 cobranded Tiffany items, everything from pint glasses and money clips to necklaces and bracelets, as well as wines with a special 40th anniversary label, Crandall said. ProFlowers has created a marathon boutique for the event.

For the running enthusiast, NYRR is showcasing Marathoners of the Decades, four men and four women who achieved their greatest success at the race, including Bill Rodgers, Grete Waitz, Alberto Salazar, Miki Gorman, German Silva, Tegla Loroupe, Paula Radcliffe and Marilson Gomes dos Santos.

Asics is being aggressive in its marketing this year, with the 40th anniversary “a big milestone,” Slayton said. “We’ve been involved since 1988 and watched the race grow. Even though there are great races around the world — Berlin, Tokyo, London — New York is recognized around the world as the granddaddy of them all.”

Asics will sell cobranded licensed marathon merchandise in a 19,000-square-foot retail shop built for the event at the three-day Health and Fitness Expo at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Asics will offer primarily licensed New York City Marathon merchandise, but Slayton pointed out that most of the pieces are from the company’s technical running line. “It adds more value,” he said. “It’s a souvenir, but it’s also something you can go to the gym and work out in.”

Marathon merchandise is also front and center at the company’s new store on 42nd Street, across from Bryant Park.

Asics’ marketing will “take up where we left off last year,” Slayton said. “We looked at some brand-awareness studies after last year’s race and found that Asics had the greatest recall of almost any sponsor.” So the company will “step up” its efforts, flooding subway stations in Union Square and Bryant Park with marketing materials. Asics has also installed billboards throughout Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, located blocks from the finish line at Tavern on the Green.

About two dozen double-decker tour buses, as well as taxi tops, will also carry one of the brand’s slogans, which this year are: “Hello New York,” “Goodbye Old Me,” “Goodbye Second Guessing” or “Goodbye Demons.”

“It speaks to all the trials and tribulations you go through getting ready for the marathon,” Slayton said.

Runners who stop by Asics’ booth at the expo can also film their own short videos, which will air in Times Square on the ABC Supersign before the race. “It’s your 15 or 30 seconds of fame in Times Square,” Slayton said. “We had 3,000 people do it last year and we’re hoping to get 5,000 or 6,000 this year.”

Asics has also added an interactive component, allowing participants to receive personalized messages at two spots on the course — the Pulaski Bridge, which is around the halfway mark, as well as in Harlem, closer to the end of the race. “It’s meant for encouragement,” he said.

On the merchandising front, Asics will be launching its GEL-Kayano 16 model running shoe nationally during race week, but will offer a special limited edition marathon version in New York City only, Slayton said. The retail price will be $150.

Other activewear brands are also in the mix. Nike expects to have Paula Radcliffe, last year’s women’s winner and the top seed, at the Niketown store on 57th Street at 3:30 p.m. Thursday for a pep rally. Nike has also introduced the LunarGlide+ Race Collection, nine shoes that combine city-inspired design touches with premium performance benefits that are targeted to marathoners.

Waitz, a nine-time New York City marathon winner from Norway, will be signing autographs at the expo booth of her sponsor, Adidas, and promote her Grete Aktiv collection. Waitz, who survived a bout with cancer in 2005, has created a collection of men’s and women’s running apparel, and the proceeds will go to the Norway-based foundation Active Against Cancer.

Rockport will be introducing a limited edition DresSport shoe — only 500 will be available starting on Saturday for $150 a pair — that is a hybrid between a dress and running shoe. A portion of the sales — $20 from each pair — will be donated to ING’s Run for Something Better program through the Orange Laces campaign. The Bachelor’s Andy Baldwin will be leading a Rockport running team in the marathon, all of whom will be running in the shoes on Sunday.

And DKNY has created a special T-shirt for a team of 40 runners for Free Arts NYC, a New York organization that seeks to bring arts and mentoring programs to children. The runners want to raise $100,000 for the organization.

Fund-raising is a goal of many races. The event will have 6,800 marathoners representing more than 80 charities with a combined fund-raising goal of $21 million. Actor Edward Norton, singer Alanis Morissette and illusionist David Blaine will run for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, a Kenya-based conservation organization. Actor Anthony Edwards will run for Shoe4Africa, which wants to build a public children’s hospital in Kenya.

The fashion industry also will be represented. Tina Lundgren, wife of Macy’s Inc. chairman, president and chief executive officer Terry Lundgren, will race for Ronald McDonald House of New York, and Tom Ott, senior vice president of men’s wear for Saks Fifth Avenue, will run for the American Cancer Society.

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