Michelob Ultra Took Over the NYC Marathon, Supporting All Beer-Loving Runners Along the Way

The brand continues to invest heavily in the running community

Beer was a huge part of the TCS NYC Marathon this year, thanks to Michelob Ultra. - Credit by Michelob Ultra
Headshot of Katie Richards

Running and beer might not seem like an obvious pairing, but for Michelob Ultra, the two are a perfect fit. As running continues to grow, the brand continues to invest in runners and major races, including the New York City Marathon, more and more each year.

This weekend, the brand took over the five boroughs of New York City for marathon weekend with parties, after-parties, billboards, an integration with Jimmy Kimmel Live and more.

“We are trying to take a different and more holistic approach to our sponsorship activations,” said Azania Andrews, vp of marketing for Michelob Ultra. “In the past, we might have just sponsored by putting our logos up and trying to sample some beer.” To move beyond that base level sponsorship, the brand created Team Ultra in 2017 and continued to grow the program for 2018.

For Team Ultra, the brand selected 95 runners (one for each calorie in a serving of Michelob Ultra) who love beer to run in the TCS NYC Marathon. The brand looks for people who are as passionate about running as they are about beer and for people who are looking to balance fitness and fun in everything they do.

“Our brand is all about balance and helping people understand that a way to have balance is to live fit and live fun and to be active in their life, but also to have time to spend with their friends and family, and enjoy great beer,” Andrews said.

Selected runners are treated to some training support from the brand. Plus, 2018 Team Ultra runners had the added benefit of coaching from 2017 TCS NYC Marathon pro female winner (and 2018’s third place female finisher) Shalane Flanagan. Those 95 runners also act as a great source of influencer marketing for the brand, as they post on their social media throughout training and on race day about working with Michelob Ultra and training for the marathon.

“We get to learn a lot about what balance means to these runners and what it looks like, and use that information to inform our communications,” Andrews said. “We have 100 people who are now out posting on their social media and talking to their friends and family for the past six months about this experience, so it’s just this incredible expression of word of mouth marketing.”

The team is a big part of Michelob Ultra’s running strategy, but the brand was also very smart about how it included the rest of the city in its race day festivities. There were a number of cheeky billboards along the course, showing runners how close they were to a beer (and the finish line) to add an extra boost along the 26.2 mile course.

There were also a number of strategically placed billboards across NYC including outside of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where runners went to pick up their race bibs before the big day.

Down the line, Andrews said the brand will continue to push into the running space in new and interesting ways as the community continues to grow.

Added Andrews: “There are more than 100 million people in America who identify as runners. Really you just need a pair of shoes and some people don’t even use that depending on where you are in the country. We like that it is something that is accessible by a broad group of people, but it also requires an intention. It’s not so much about skill (outside of elite runners) but for anybody, it’s just the focus and intention and again a great expression of balance to create the time to make the space to run.”

@ktjrichards katie.richards@adweek.com Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.