When Amby Burfoot won the Boston Marathon 21 years ago, runners were rewarded at the end of the race with bowls of beef stew.
"We were out there killing ourselves for that bowl of stew," recalls Burfoot, who is now executive editor of Runner's World magazine.
The estimated 20,000 runners in the Los Angeles Marathon on March 5 will find lots more cooking than the stew Burfoot ran for.
In fact, the 4-year-old event has fast become a showcase for food and beverage companies. Indeed, the 26.2-mile route that winds through the city will be dotted with stands that offer the runners--but not the spectators--Arrowhead water, Exceed energy drink, Sunkist oranges, Del Monte bananas and Cameo candy. Each booth will be marked with everything from cardboard signs to a 40-foot inflatable Del Monte banana.
As for the finish line, well, you can forget beef stew. How about 500,000 bags of low-fat Doritos instead?
"This might be the only marathon in the country where you can run 26 miles and gain weight," said William Burke, president of the Los Angeles Marathon. Bear in mind, at the first Los Angeles Marathon just four years ago, hungry runners didn't get so much as an orange wedge.
After the race, of course, there are flashy prizes from the major sponsors, such as Mercedes-Benz cars given to the male and female winners. During the race, however, runners don't yearn for sheet metal--but for sheer nourishment. And companies eager to bolster their regional marketing efforts are only too happy to oblige.
All hope that the TV cameras will capture their products in the hands of the runners. And if they don't, many are at least hoping for a few fleeting TV shots of their highly visible food and drink outposts set up exclusively for the runners.
But some observers suggest that the marathon route may soon look more like the midway at the Los Angeles County Fair. "The sponsors keep getting smarter," said Jim Andrews, senior editor at Special Events Reports, a Chicago-based marketing newsletter. "Instead of just a sign at the start and finish, you now have food stations every mile with the words like Dole or Del Monte all over them."
Of course, Del Monte isn't supplying 50,000 bananas to runners and their family members just because it wants to provide potassium. "Obviously, we're doing this to get our name and label in front of consumers," said Howard Nager, director of trade relations at Del Monte Tropical Fruit Co. in Coral Gables, Fla.
Not to be outdone, Sunkist plans to distribute 51,000 orange wedges to runners from five marathon locations. "With a little luck, we'll have some product identification," said Ray Cole, director of marketing at Sunkist Growers Inc. in Sherman Oaks. "But we realize the chances of getting on TV are not that great."
And after the grueling race, a festival near the finish line will be hosted by Frito-Lay, the maker of Doritos. The company is out to promote what it says is its healthier version of the chips--a product called Dorito Lights, which contains one-third less oil. What better place than the Los Angeles Marathon to try to place junk food in the hands of role model athletes?
"Obviously, Doritos is not a health food, but it is a fun snack," said Shep Moyle, Western marketing manager for Frito-Lay. "Even marathon runners eat Doritos."
Well, maybe. But few of these food and beverage sponsors would be in the Los Angeles Marathon if its 49-year-old president, William Burke, hadn't run in the New York marathon last year with his 21-year-old daughter.
"When I got to about the 14th mile I was really dragging," said Burke. "I happened to see a woman handing out bananas, and she gave me one. I tell you, if I wasn't married, I'd have asked her to marry me. That was the best banana I'd ever had."
That prompted Burke to not only seek someone to supply bananas for the marathon, but other treats as well. There will be stops every mile where runners can grab paper cups filled with Arrowhead water. "We decided we had to have it all the way," Burke said.
Of course, runners won't just be handed snacks at these pit stops. The day of the race, each runner will be handed a "goodie bag" filled with items--or coupons for items--ranging from vitamins to laundry detergent.
Runners may have been surprised last year to find 31 different doodads in these bags. This year, they may be even more astounded to find that the figure has doubled to 62 items--with an estimated retail value of $161 a bag. Not bad for an $18 entry fee.
As far as the suppliers are concerned, they say it is worth the marketing effort to get role model athletes--such as marathon runners--to use their products.
"If someone asks one of these runners what vitamins they take, we want (our) vitamins to be the answer to that question," said Jerry Bergen, product manager for Your Life vitamins, which is returning as a marathon sponsor for the second year. It will be placing vitamin samples in every runner's bag.
Not all sponsors, however, are back in the race. Last year, Morinaga Nutritional Food Inc. of the City of Commerce put about 15,000 packets of its soybean-based tofu in runner goodie bags. This year, they're not. "We weren't able to achieve any measurable response," said Tom McReynolds, marketing director for the company.
But plenty of other companies are raring to get their goods in the goodie bags. And most runners are eager to receive them, said Burke. "The first year we gave out something like a candy bar and a comb to each runner," he said. "This year, they may have to arrive with shopping carts."
'Californias' Campaign Spurs Gold Rush of '89
Will the state of California soon secede from the Los Angeles ad agency Keye/Donna/Pearlstein?
For nearly five years, an ad campaign that divides the state of California into a handful of regional "Californias" has appeared in magazines and on TV.
But Keye/Donna/Pearlstein, which created the campaign, must now fight to keep the estimated $5-million business. The California Office of Tourism--under state guidelines--must put the account out for bid. And the state has already received inquiries from nearly 70 agencies--the majority of them from Los Angeles.
"Keye/Donna/Pearlstein has done a terrific job," said Jack Stewart, chief deputy director of the state Department of Commerce, which oversees the tourism bureau. "But when we go out to bid, there are no favorites." Stewart said it would be several months before the department selects its next ad agency.
But no matter who gets it, he said, "we'll probably stick with the 'Californias' campaign."
Nintendo Seeing the Downside of Success
Nintendo, the hotter-than-hot video game, seems to be feeling the heat from all sides these days.
While a $250-million lawsuit against Nintendo by Atari is still pending, Nintendo was also recently called on the carpet by the Better Business Bureau.
In a TV commercial last year for its fast-paced hockey video game, Nintendo closed the ad with the phrase "Only from Nintendo." For that expression, Nintendo--one of the biggest names in video games--has received the advertising industry's rough equivalent of being placed in the penalty box.
The 15-second advertisement--which mostly appeared on Saturday morning television--was recently reviewed by the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
The bureau was concerned that the ad implied Nintendo was the only manufacturer of an ice hockey game, when several others were on the market. "The word 'only' in this case might be misleading to a child audience," the bureau reported in its inquiry.
The bureau asked Nintendo to stop running the ad and to think twice before using that same expression again. But Nintendo--which had already stopped running the ad by the time it was reviewed--is still smarting from that decision.
"A rap was not justified in this case," said Bill White, director of advertising at Nintendo. "We thought we were actually helping to clarify that we were the only ones who make this ice hockey game."
Raisins Going From Soft Shoe to Hard Sell
They're raisin' the roof at the Los Angeles office of Grey Advertising. The agency last week picked up the $7-million Sun-Maid Growers of California ad business, an account that for years has been held by agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
While Sun-Maid ads have recently been piggybacking off the success of the famous Dancing Raisins, that Sun-Maid campaign will end soon. "It's gotten so competitive that it's not just a matter of selling raisins anymore," said Miles J. Turpin, chairman of Grey's Western division. "We have to sell the brand."
That Malcolm . . . What a Popular Guy
Just how big a deal is Malcolm S. Forbes? Well, as far as the Advertising Club of Los Angeles is concerned, the founding publisher of Forbes magazine is about as big as they get. In fact, in the premiere issue of the Ad Club's beefed-up monthly newsletter, AD L.A., the cover story banners the headline: "Malcolm's Coming."
Forbes is due to speak Wednesday at noon at the Ad Club's monthly meeting at the Beverly Hilton. And seats are scarce indeed. At a typical luncheon, the club sells about 300 seats. For this one, it expects to sell more than 800.