Earlier this week, I had an incredible opportunity to combine two of my biggest passions. As you’ve probably guessed, shopper marketing is one of them – it’s a field I love thinking, talking, and writing about. I’m also an obsessed runner. So when presented with the opportunity to take part in an innovative launch event for the new Nike Free running shoes, I jumped at it. The Nike Free Stride Speed Run is part product demo, part group treadmill workout, and a completely immersive experience.
To generate interest, Nike kickstarted the Free Stride experience by tapping into it’s NikeNYC Run Club, a training group for runners of all skill levels in major cities across the U.S., by sending members an exclusive early access invitation. Nike also leveraged its local coaches as brand ambassadors, encouraging runners to sign-ups during training sessions and sharinge the experience across social media, a tactic that has proven successful for cultish cycling studio Soul Cycle.
There is no escaping the Free Stride Experience at Nike’s flagship retail store in New York City. There is amazing stopping power in five runners hammering on treadmills – music blaring – in front of a jaw-dropping, two-story LED screen. All along the stage, Nike Free running shoes are displayed pedestals and with plenty of room to stand and watch, shoppers gather and turn into spectators.
As I get ready to start my own Free Stride experience, I check-in and am escorted to a changing room and outfitted for my workout. Nike associates explain the key product features of the new Nike Free and ask questions about my running preferences to help select the best style for me to demo during the workout.
The workout itself, a grueling set of speed intervals, is guided by both the massive LED screen and Nike coach. Sight, sound, and motion work together to create a completely immersive experience for runners and spectators alike. As we move through exotic, environments created by the LED screen, LED lights in the floor change and pulse to the beat of the music while nature sounds are subtly mixed in. I actually feel transported to the places on the screen in front of me and despite the intensity of the workout, I find a huge grin on my face.
The workout ends, high fives are exchanged and we return to the changing area. This is a perfect occasion for Nike associates to chat with us about how the Nike Free’s felt during the workout. It’s easy to forget this is a selling occasion for Nike but throughout the experience, the branding and selling all feels very subtle. I don’t feel pressured, but there are certainly clear buying opportunities and Nike associates made sure we walk away with a fantastic understanding of the product.
Nike is able to extend the reach of the Free Stride experience by “evangelizing” Free Stride participants into social ambassadors. Photographers and videographers capture each session and participants receive a post-event email recap complete with links to download photos and videos from their session. By providing social media worthy assets and encouraging sharing using designated hashtags, Nike can effectively turn the early adopters into the social influencer’s for the next wave of runners.
In the end, it was an incredible experience to have been a part of. The Nike Free Stride Speed Run is a beautiful case study in blending product demos, social influencers, experiential marketing, and retail technology into one integrated experience. It will be exciting to see if this strategy is employed in future launches. The marketer and runner in me certainly hopes it will.