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The Art of Great Storytelling: A Review of Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge

August 15, 2023 Marketing Strategy
The Art of Great Storytelling: A Review of Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge

On 12 October 2019, Eliud Kipchoge became the first human to run a marathon (42 Kilometers, or 42,195 meters) in less than 2 hours with a finish time of 1:59:40.2 in Vienna (Austria) on a specially chosen course under the patronage and guidance of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge.

It was estimated that 500 million+ viewers tuned in to watch Kipchoge cross the finish line in over 296 markets across the world. Today, we take a look at the storytelling lessons marketers, content writers, and producers – can learn from the execution of the INEOS 1:59 Campaign.

In the vast arena of marketing, research has revealed that the average person sees between 4,000 and 10,000 ads in a single day – this is compared to 500 to 1,600 in the 70s. Overtime, the human mind has evolved to protect us from information overload by filtering out irrelevant information while only retaining what is important to our desired intent at any given point in time. You can experiment on this by watching the below video (with sound):

In marketing and advertising, this attentional blindness to non-relevant factors has been labelled as banner blindness:

A phenomena where our audiences have learnt to ignore content that resembles ads, is close to ads, or appears in locations traditionally dedicated to ads. This filtering happens on a subconscious basis and the brain uses a primal engine to drive it – the promise of reward or the frustration of failure.

So…how can marketers use the art of storytelling to win attention of our audiences? Today we look at the saga of Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge to answer that question.

Setting The Stage With a Compelling Narrative for Societal Transformation: “No Human Is Limited!”

Imagine a world where the human spirit soars beyond limitations, where the borders of possibility are pushed and shattered, and where storytelling becomes a force that unites, inspires, and transforms.

The campaign starts by taking us through the ordinary life of Eliud Kipchoge – who by this point is already a legend in his own right as the greatest marathon runner of all time (G.O.A.T). We get to see the behind the scenes of his everyday life as a Kenyan living in Eldoret. A life that most of us can identify with either because we’ve lived it, or we’ve seen others living it.

Despite his many accolades, Kipchoge like everybody else – has tasted defeat before…Just two years prior in 2017, he failed in his first attempt to break the 2 hour marathon barrier in Nike’s Breaking 2 Campaign. We see that he is not ready or willing to give up, and will have another crack at it. In his own words:

“I am pushing, pushing, pushing…to make sure that I reach that mark where human beings will actually learn from it. My job is simple; to prepare and reach the level of fitness needed to run a sub-two-hour marathon.”

Eliud Kipchoge

Just like that, the stage is set! The campaign’s narrative was not just to emphasize the athletic endeavor of the challenge that was ahead of Kipchoge, It would also echo the universal theme of conquering personal limits. Kipchoge himself came up with the slogan: No Human Is Limited! His achievement of the feat would perhaps be enough proof of our own ability to overcome the challenges and limitations that also hold us back.

Lesson #1 on The Art of Great Storytelling: Great Content Enables Connection and Impacts Society

The impact of storytelling is most potent when it transcends entertainment, inspiring tangible change. The INEOS 1:59 Challenge campaign wasn’t limited to the sports realm; it ignited conversations about human potential and the limits we impose on ourselves. Psychologists explain that stories shape our beliefs and influence behavior, making them a powerful tool for societal transformation. By recognizing this potential, marketers can wield storytelling as a catalyst for positive change on a broader scale.

Provoking Audience Inquiry and Exploration: “What Does it Take to Run a Sub-2 Hour Marathon? Is it Even Possible?”

Running a Sub 2-Hour Marathon - The Art of Great Storytelling by Okinyo Mark

An element of mystique is key to sparking curiosity and active engagement. The campaign’s cryptic teasers, countdowns, and behind-the-scenes glimpses leveraged the innate human drive for discovery.

By spotlighting the challenge ahead of Kipchoge, the campaign captures our attention and invites our participation on the subject at hand. People start to weigh in on whether Kipchoge’s feat is actually possible (this is what marketer’s call user generated content).

While science and mathematics show just how difficult the challenge at hand is, the producers go behind the scenes to show us the sacrifices, unwavering dedication, and the camaraderie that fueled has fueled Kipchoge’s journey. Surely this cannot be a fool’s errand, If he believes he can do it, then it truly has to be possible – even if not for us mere mortals, then surely for a legend like himself. We all connected emotionally with his quest and that embedded the story within our hearts.

Lesson #2 on The Art of Great Storytelling: Great Content Inspires Exploration

Psychologically, curiosity triggers dopamine release, intensifying the desire to explore. By nurturing curiosity, the INEOS 1:59 Challenge campaign transformed passive observers into active participants, inviting them to unravel the narrative’s intricacies.

Empowerment Through Participation: Nurturing Pride and Ownership

Effective storytelling isn’t a monologue; it’s a collective experience that empowers audiences as stakeholders. The “No Human Is Limited” mantra became a rallying cry, transcending athletics to embody empowerment.

Social psychology confirms a shared identity and sense of belonging amplify pride and ownership.

By involving the audience in co-creating the narrative, the campaign fostered collective achievement, further embedding the story within society. The Oxytocin hormone release during narrative experiences can empathy and bonding among people.

Lesson #3 on The Art of Great Storytelling: Great Content Elicits Feelings of Joy and Evokes Pride

Neuroscience corroborates what marketers have long intuited: emotions are the gateway to deep-seated engagement.

The INEOS 1:59 Challenge campaign harnessed the psychological mechanisms that fuel emotional resonance. Studies show that emotionally charged content triggers a cascade of neural activity, making it more memorable and impactful.

Finally: What Good is an Impactful Story if it Cannot Reach its Target Audience?

The success of the marketing campaign around Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge was not solely a result of its compelling storytelling, but also the strategic deployment of various tactics that amplified and distributed the narrative to a global audience. These tactics leveraged modern communication channels, human psychology, and innovative marketing strategies to create a phenomenon that resonated deeply and spread widely.

1. Using a Multi-Platform Digital Strategy to Increase Reach

The campaign utilized a comprehensive digital strategy, leveraging various online platforms to maximize reach. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook were harnessed to release teaser videos, behind-the-scenes content, and live updates. This approach tapped into the interconnected nature of modern society, allowing people from different corners of the world to stay engaged in real-time.

Why It Was Successful: The multi-platform digital strategy ensured that the campaign reached a diverse global audience, catering to different age groups, demographics, and online preferences. It provided a cohesive and immersive experience, ensuring that the audience remained engaged and invested throughout the journey.

2. Using Teasers and Countdowns to Build Anticipation

The campaign employed enigmatic teasers and countdowns to build anticipation and curiosity. Short videos and cryptic posts piqued the audience’s interest, encouraging them to speculate and engage in discussions.

The countdown to the actual challenge created a sense of excitement, akin to awaiting a climactic moment in a story.

Why It Was Successful: Teasers and countdowns tapped into the psychological principle of curiosity, triggering dopamine release and intensifying the desire to know more.

By strategically revealing snippets of the narrative over time, the campaign maintained a high level of engagement and encouraged continuous speculation.

3. Interactive Storytelling Through Audience Engagement

The campaign actively engaged the audience by allowing them to be a part of the narrative. The “No Human Is Limited” mantra became more than a slogan – it became an interactive movement.

People were encouraged to share their own stories of overcoming limitations, creating a sense of community and empowerment.

Why It Was Successful: Interactive storytelling fosters a sense of ownership and identity. By inviting the audience to contribute their stories, the campaign made people feel personally invested, transforming them from passive observers to active participants.

This sense of involvement increased the campaign’s impact and resonance.

4. Giving Real-Time Updates and Live Streaming

During the challenge itself, real-time updates and live streaming were utilized to create a sense of urgency and immersion. Alongside the 120,000 people that turned up in Vienna to cheer Kipchoge along and witness the marathon themselves, online audiences were able to follow Kipchoge’s progress and witness the pivotal moment of breaking the barrier as it happened, regardless of their geographic location.

During the event, YouTube saw a peak viewing figure of 779k consecutive live streams. To date, the event video has drawn a total audience of 6.1million views. This is in addition to the 39.8million video views and 2.6million engagements on marathon day (Saturday 12th October) across INEOS 1:59 and Eliud Kipchoge’s social media channels.

Furthermore, news of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge had been covered over 9,000 times by 1,081 TV channels in 296 markets across the world. On top of this, there had been 9,789 online press articles covering the INEOS 1:59 Challenge Source. By providing a direct window into the event, the campaign intensified emotional engagement, allowing viewers to experience the triumph and emotions in real-time.

Takeaways for Marketers Looking to Master The Art of Great Storytelling

There is a popular saying that success always leaves clues. As seasoned marketers, the INEOS 1:59 Challenge campaign imparts invaluable insights:

  1. Lead with Impact: Crafting narratives that tap into Your audiences dreams, hopes, and fears enables you to connect with them on a deeper level where you can create a lasting impact on their impressions and actions.
  2. Curiosity Fuels Engagement: Deploy concepts in your content that inspire intrigue, disagreement, or ignite curiosity. This will drive active exploration from your audience and help with user generated content (UGC).
  3. Invite Your Audience as Co-authors: If your content is about relevant societal topics, inviting and empowering your audience with the voice, tools, and channels to contribute will help foster a sense of pride and shared ownership.
  4. Global Reach, Local Relevance: Tailor messages resonating across cultures, fostering inclusivity.
  5. Distribution, Distribution, Distribution: Having a content distribution strategy makes all the difference on whether you will benefit from your hard work or not.

In the grand symphony of marketing, the art of great storytelling isn’t merely an art; it’s a transformative force that shapes minds, societies, and connections across time and space. The INEOS 1:59 Challenge unveils a path to crafting narratives transcending marketing norms, ushering in an era of transformative storytelling.

The Art of Great Storytelling | Okinyo Mark

Disclaimer: This creative thought piece is inspired by Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge and incorporates elements of research findings. It is not an official account of the event or its marketing strategies.

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  • Mwarv 12:28 pm August 16, 2023 Reply

    Great summary and lessons shared. A lot to take home.

    • Mark 3:12 pm August 16, 2023 Reply

      This event was one for the ages but the lessons are applicable to everyday scenarios. Thank you for dropping by and leaving ac comment as well Mwarv!

  • Yitzhak 5:47 am August 17, 2023 Reply

    Well articulated content marketing ascpects from the INEOS1:59 Challenge. Thank you for the insights Okinyo!

    • Mark 9:06 am August 17, 2023 Reply

      There’s a popular saying that success leaves clues…my work is to look for them and share with those who need it. Thank you for stopping by Yitzhak!

  • Paul 9:34 am August 23, 2023 Reply

    You’ve really mastered the art of simplicity in delivering your message. This is a great piece. Simple yet informative!

  • Mark 12:10 pm August 23, 2023 Reply

    Much appreciated Paul. Work in progress 😉

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