Why thousands joined Marriott Rewards when Friday Night Lights stars tackled a Spartan Race

The campaign was an effort to celebrate Marriott Rewards and Spartan's partnership and highlight benefits for members.

Company: Marriott Rewards
Campaign: Marriott Rewards Reunited to Race Campaign
Agency mix: Grey PR (AOR for Marriott Rewards/Spartan partnership), IMG Live (handled contact deals with talent and on-site activation)
Duration: May 9 – June 11, 2016
Budget: N/A

Marriott Rewards tapped the cast of hit show Friday Night Lights to celebrate its new partnership with obstacle course company Spartan Race.

To draw attention to the new global partnership and benefits for its members, Marriott Rewards reunited Friday Night Lights cast members Taylor Kitsch, Minka Kelly, Zach Gilford and Aimee Teegarden to tackle a grueling eight-and-a-half-mile, 29-obstacle Spartan Super Race in Chicago.

As Spartan Race’s official global hotel partner, Marriott Rewards provides obstacle course enthusiasts with exclusive, member-only tips, perks, and benefits to fuel their training and help them complete the demanding courses.

Spartan Race has over 1 million global participants and more than 170 events in more than 25 countries planned for 2016.

The PR team saw that Spartan Race had a passionate community and drew a parallel to the keen fans of the TV show, which ended its run after five seasons in 2011.  

Grey PR sought to position Marriott Rewards as the driving factor that empowered the cast of Friday Night Lights -- a show which revolved around fitness and teamwork -- to reunite, train, and tackle the Spartan Race.

"Our goals were to generate buzz and conversation within the obstacle course racing community, as well as mainstream media," explained Dan Forman, Marriott International’s senior director, consumer PR. "We really wanted to showcase the Marriott Rewards and Spartan partnership and all the benefits we were offering racers, including: Discounts on race entries and hotel stays, training tips, and a lot of other things that are very useful at the race."

Sara Conneighton, who handles consumer PR for Marriott, told PRWeek that most mainstream outlets are "not very interested in covering traditional sponsorships." Because of this, the team looked to create a campaign that enabled them "to get the right message out there," she said.

The team targeted media outlets that focus on obstacle course racing, but also wanted to break into more lifestyle-oriented publications that reach a broad millennial audience. The team pitched entertainment, sports, and health-related publications, including Women's Health and Runners World. Other lifestyle outlets like Vanity Fair, People magazine, and PopSugar were also pitched.

The campaign team also aimed to add a strong social media component to the activation.

On June 11, the Friday Night Lights cast members worked together, alongside Marriott Rewards members, to tackle each obstacle and cross the finish line together at the Spartan Race in Chicago.

The stars gave interviews to top lifestyle and fitness reporters leading up to race day and on-site just before the race, discussing their training routines, as well as recent and upcoming projects.

The campaign also featured an on-the-ground activation at the race, ran by IMG Live, that aimed to inform and drive enrollment to the Marriott Rewards program.

The activation was able to make an impact on social media, thanks in part to the celebrities utilizing their own social audiences to share the story of the cast reunion and the Spartan Race.

"Three of the cast members who reunited are very active on social media and they were involved in posting images and motivating each other while they were training," said Conneighton. "All of the cast members we reunited were trained by Spartan elite racers, so they had some great content of their training and they were able to share that content."

The campaign has generated more than 32.4 million social media impressions, with 588 million earned media impressions in total.

The activation saw feature articles in Vanity Fair, Time magazine, BuzzFeed, AOL, Fox News, and other outlets. In addition, 77.4% of outlets covered Marriott Rewards for the first time.

The Marriott Rewards program saw 14,500 enrollments, thanks to the campaign efforts.

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