Programmatic thinking on a two hour marathon

Like many people on Saturday (12th October 2019) we watched Eliud Kipchoge become the first person ever to run a marathon in under two hours. This was a staggering sporting achievement, showing the best of human performance.

It got us thinking about what the comparables were between this superhuman feat, and what we do day in day out. Programmatic execution. There’s the obvious things like crunching data, and making conditions optimal for execution, so for what they’re worth, here are our thoughts.

Focus on what’s important

Everyone involved in this project had one clear overarching goal. Break the two hour mark for a marathon distance. Simple. Just one thing, clearly defined. When everyone is committed to one clear direction, campaigns invariably perform better. The team involved and the ad-tech will adapt a razor sharp focus on what will make the campaign perform better, when that goal is clear.

Look for marginal gains in the planning phase

Sir Dave Brailsford and Team Sky (now Ineos of sub two hour marathon fame) famously went to mammoth levels of detail, to identify and leverage opportunities for aggregating marginal gains. They analysed the obvious like fitness, nutrition and aerodynamics, along with the more extreme, like sleep positioning.

Similarly the team involved with Kipchoge put a military style of planning into practice. Vienna was chosen as the destination because of benign conditions. A team of 41 pacemakers ran in squadron formation (2-1-2-2) to keep him on track for the time, and to protect him from the slight elements of wind, and ensure aerodynamism was optimal.

For us, our team is always looking to push programmatic planning perfection by that extra 1%. Whether that’s using tech advancements for execution, or new planning tools. We’re always analysing every aspect of a campaign. Programmatic is less about A/B testing, and more about rapid data testing at scale in the hundreds and thousands to identify the sweet spot.

Crunch the data to increase performance

People on the marathon project knew specifically what ‘sub-two hour performance’ looks like for their role. For the person driving the (controversial) pace car projecting the green lasers onto the road, through to the nutritionist getting fluid into him while still in motion, it was clear why they were involved. Even the 20,000 strong crowd, knew that their one job was to cheer and motivate. That was what the neuroscience and psychological data said contributed to failure two years earlier.

With us, we always ensure every campaign team has clarity on the beliefs and mindset to achieve high performance for that campaign. As part of our planning process, we go deep into the data and the audience. This allows us to understand the existing marketing activity of a client. We interrogate the audience’s behaviour and motivations, through sprints and workshops, looking at the competition and what they’re up to. The result of this analysis is insight to form the basis of the campaign idea into how we’ll influence the target audience   

As programmatic specialists these powerful performance habits we’ve developed help us to continually improve and get better.

Collaborate effectively

This was not sport as we’d ever seen it before. Kipchoge had a huge team (and budget) involved in the project. Specifically from Nike with prototype running shoes, and having learnt from the previous failed attempt, a headline sponsor was onboarded. Ineos the petrochemical firm, who replaced Sky as cycling’s performance sponsor of choice (Dave Brailsford was in attendance as you’d have guessed), had their logo everywhere a camera turned. Due to the big budget he had some of the best athletes in the world as his pacemakers, and there is a cynical view that the feet can only be beaten if a similar or increased budget can be realised.  

As a specialist business, collaboration is at our core. It drives everything we do. At a base level, every campaign involves at least one tech partner, and collaboration is usually multidisciplinary. Whether that’s the in-house team, or additional client agency partners, working as a flexible team is baked into our DNA. We’ve found through performance experience that individuals look for feedback to improve performance. Whether that’s our internal team, our partners or client’s, feedback and reporting is essential for continual improvement. 

Building the right networks around us, has allowed us to develop and grow. For our clients it helps them get in front, and stay in front. 

High performance culture counts

We recognised the performance culture Kipchoge create around himself. Although not an official world record, he was not troubled by this. It was not the goal. It was about breaking barriers and showing that no human is limited. As his coach Patrick Sang, said afterwards “He has inspired all of us to stretch our limits in our lives,” “Everything went perfectly. Records are meant to be broken, I’m sure someone down the road will want to try to break this one, but history has been made.”  

At Regital, we’ve worked hard to ensure we have a culture where high performance counts. We always want to encourage people to ‘tell it how they see it’. This means problems are aired and dealt with effectively. 


So that’s what we learned from the sub two-hour marathon. People will be talking about Kipchoge for generations to come. We’re not suggesting programmatic will have the same impact on you, but if you care about marketing performance, there are some similarities. 

If you’d like to find out more about using data to accelerate your marketing activity, get in touch with us below.