What Is 'Mudvertising' and Why Are Marketers Diving In?

It's not about winning

That content is all the more impressive when it involves activities so down and dirty and achievement-oriented as these. “It definitely showed me I can do things I didn’t think I could do—I didn’t think I could finish it,” says Chelsea Cutaran, 24, a nurse in a cardiac care unit. Entering for the first time with a group of co-workers, Cutaran completed a 10-mile Tough Mudder event last July at Big Bear Lake, Calif., in about five hours.

As with any sport or activity, there are dangers. Tough Mudder makes its entrants sign “death waivers,” just in case. (“It definitely gave me second thoughts, but I got over that quickly,” says Cutaran.) But mudventure has its own unique risks. For one thing, mud can contain harmful microorganisms—E. coli outbreaks at events from entrants ingesting mud aren’t unheard of. Then there are the obstacles themselves. Tough Mudder’s course includes such activities as Electric Eel, which requires participants to crawl through mud while 10,000-volt live wires dangle above; Arctic Enema, a pool filled with ice water in which participants must submerge themselves and navigate beneath a plank; and Funky Monkey, which involves an incline smeared with mud and butter and a set of monkey bars above a pit of icy water.

While the organizers stress that safety is their top concern, injuries are fairly common. Jennifer Anderson, 39—who, like Cutaran, is a nurse—broke her tailbone going down a Plexiglas slide at the Ruckus mud event in Marshfield, Mass., in June 2012.

“I know it wasn’t the course that did it to me—it was a freak accident,” she says. Anderson went on to complete another run five months later, and she plans a return to the Marshfield Ruckus this year. “I didn’t want to go out injured,” she says. “It all goes back to the accomplishment thing. As a mom of three, I don’t get a lot of things about me.”

“This definitely marks a shift from the identifying with Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan on the [Wheaties] box to people wanting to be on the box,” says Tough Mudder’s Patterson. (As it happens, Tough Mudder will grace a Wheaties box of its own later this year, according to Patterson—clearly marking mudventure’s move into the mainstream.)

Brands certainly are throwing big bucks at mudvertising opportunities. Backing several races at a major event series can cost a marketer anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, while long-term deals can run into seven figures. Spartan Race’s three-year pact with Reebok is the most comprehensive sponsorship in the space. In fact, the event series is now called the Reebok Spartan Race and encompasses on-site activations, apparel, a line of running shoes, a mini-Spartan course at the marketer’s Canton, Mass., HQ and more. “We were really looking at how our brand is positioned in fitness—we really connected well with them,” says Chad Wittman, Reebok’s director, sports fitness entertainment marketing. “They’re all about transformation, [and] we believe in the same things.”

Reebok-Spartan athletic wear will hit retailers this summer, with a specialty footwear launch set for January 2014. Likely priced in the $150 range, the shoes will feature “new technologies,” says Wittman, based on the needs of mud runners to keep muck out of their sneakers—and keep the sneakers from coming off altogether.

For a lifestyle brand like Reebok, mud-venture is a natural complement because the events themselves can become a lifestyle, transforming people from couch potatoes into enthusiastic amateur athletes who enter several events a year. (It is estimated that one in four participants are repeat racers.) With that in mind, brands like Reebok aim to connect long term with consumers who integrate mudventure sports—and a commitment to exercise and fitness—into their everyday lives.

Continue to next page →

Adweek Blog Network