25 Seconds Away

Marketing lessons from Nike’s mission to break the two-hour marathon.

Nike is on a mission. They think they can help a runner can break the seemingly impossible two-hour barrier of the classic human endurance test: the marathon. And they think it can happen now.

It was a cool 42 degrees at 5:45 a.m. on May 6 as the runners lined up the start, but it would quickly reach 53 degrees. Slightly higher than the optimal 50 degree mark for running 26.2 miles. Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya lined up along with 2 other qualifying runners in what would become Nike’s first attempt at breaking the two-hour barrier. The venue was the Formula One track in Monza, Italy. Chosen for ideal weather conditions that time of year along with its elevation and track profile.

Kipchoge was wearing a pair of Nike “VaporFly Elites” — a new shoe with a spring plate in the sole that Nike specifically developed for this attempt. Fluids were delivered via moped to minimize interruptions in stride and a group of interchangeable pace runners formed a diamond shape around the qualifiers to reduce wind resistance and help maintain an exact pace. In order to run a sub-two marathon, a runner must maintain a grueling pace of 4:35 seconds per mile.

The. Entire. Race.

Early in the race it became obvious that one of the three runners was not going to be on pace and withdrew within the first half hour. The second runner was in contention until the halfway mark where he started falling further and further behind. Kipchoge maintained the 4:35 pace all the way through mile 20 giving the Nike team hope that their goal was within grasp.

Soon after, the natural laws of human physiology began to take over and each mile increased by a few seconds. It became obvious in the final mile of the race that the barrier would not be broken. It was also obvious that this first attempt was a massive success.

“I was aiming for 1:59,” Kipchoge said after the race, “but I’m happy to run two hours in [a] marathon.” When asked about his next attempt, he said, “The world is only 25 seconds away.”

So what does Nike hope to gain from breaking from the two hour marathon? And what can we learn from it to help our marketing plans? Let’s take a look:

1. Sell Shoes

Obviously, if Nike breaks the two hour marathon, they will sell more shoes. That’s the number one goal and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Kipchoge ran the Monza attempt in their new VaporFly Elites, but Nike has released a consumer version: the Zoom VaporFly 4%. It claims to make any runner 4% more efficient and sells for $250 a pair.

It’s not just Nike shoes. Imagine a “Nike” runner. Performance clothing, high tech wearables, refueling liquids and gels, specifically designed race venues…. anything to give runners an edge. If their gear can help an elite athlete do something super-human, imagine what it could do for an amateur.

So how does that help us in marketing a dental practice? Because the number one goal of dental marketing is to get new patients in the chair. It’s to increase revenue to the practice. That shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a good thing.

2. Value Alignment

Nike began as a running shoe company. Bill Bowerman, the original founder of Nike was preoccupied with creating shoes that helped athletes perform at their highest potential. He would press the iconic “Waffle Trainer” soles in his wife’s waffle iron at home and then sell the shoes out of the trunk of his car at track meets. Running is their roots and it’s in their DNA as a sport company. This play continues to secure their position as “the” running company.

Hands down the best dental marketing campaigns align with the values of your practice. If you’ve positioned yourself as the “gentle dental solution” in your community, then create photography that captures that. Design your new patient experience around that value. Run a fall campaign around “giving dentistry a second chance” and invite high anxiety patients to experience a gentle dentist. Alignment produces momentum which creates a larger return on your marketing investment.

3. Human Advancement

Nike’s attempt is about ambition and advancement. It’s about pushing the limits of human athletic performance. Just as the United States raced to put a man on the moon, or Red Bull funded the first sky dive from space or SpaceX’s vision of colonizing Mars, this is Nike’s shot at a big, crazy, exciting goal.

“Breaking2 is a quest to fully measure the extent of what the body is capable of,” the company said. “Nike is looking to push the limits of human potential through product innovation, smarter training and an optimized environment — helping our athletes run what has never been run before.”

There is so much advancement in the world of dentistry today that this should be a given. Pick your lane and go for it.

I personally love the advancements being made in sleep medicine. I regularly talk with doctors getting involved in sleep apnea, but sleep medicine is a more progressive study. Sleep apnea is about diagnosing and fixing. Sleep medicine is about prevention and healing. I think dentistry is poised to make more progress in this area than the medical community. Charles Mayo said in 1915 to the American Medical Association (AMA),

“It is evident that the next great step in medical progress in the line of preventative medicine should be made by the dental profession.”

In many ways, he was ahead of his time, but there’s no doubt that his words are 100% true today.

4. Research & Development

First and foremost, Nike’s goal is a marketing initiative, but it’s also a research and development project. They will stand to make hundreds of millions on this one event, but they could potentially make billions in what they learn along the way. The data collected from this race will change the way they make shoes and clothing. It will impact what wearable technology they develop and the potential advantages those could create. It will overflow into fitness tracking apps, wrist bands, futuristic fabrics, sports drinks and gels. They could potentially be the first to market on dozens of new products from this research.

“Utilizing emerging technologies to enhance elite athlete performance in areas such as nutrition and training will unlock opportunities for these technologies to enter additional compelling marketings, whether they be a broad consumer market or even one like the military,” said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute and professor at the University of Southern California Marshall Business School.

One of the reasons I love dentistry is the commitment to continuing education. Dentists are continual learners and it’s a discipline I connect with. While you could argue for the sometimes humorous amount of continuing education available in the dental world today, it speaks to the values of the industry as a whole.

While some are overwhelmed with the massive amount of change we’ve gone through in just the last ten years (CAD-CAM Printing, CBCT, Implants, Sleep Medicine, etc.), others couldn’t be more excited. It’s a tremendous time to be a practicing dentist. Just as the last decade brought us dozens (hundreds?) of new products and treatments, the next decade will bring even more. The next big breakthroughs could be right on the horizon.

Nike’s goal of breaking the two hour marathon might seem like a lot of hype and sponsorship dollars, but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. And while it’s easy to discount the new, young, local dentist who’s advertising on social media, be slow to judge. There just might be some deep-rooted values driving the advancement of the industry as a whole.


Joshua Scott is a marketing speaker and consultant. He has been speaking to audiences for over 20 years and has spent the last 15 years in the dental industry. He works with practices around the country to create confident marketing strategies.

He leads Studio 8E8 (pronounced “88”), a creative marketing firm specializing in brand creation and digital marketing solutions. He is also the host of The 8E8 Show — a regular YouTube show answering dentistry’s most important marketing questions.

Discover more about Josh’s approach to marketing at joshuascott.com.