Runs go with the force

Last month's Pokemon Run drew about 6,000 runners, including many dressed as their favourite characters from the video game.
Last month's Pokemon Run drew about 6,000 runners, including many dressed as their favourite characters from the video game.PHOTO: POKEMON RUN SG 2017

Themed events a hit with casual runners who are attracted to iconic characters

Pikachu and Darth Vader are popular characters found in a toy store or in the movies.

But increasingly, they and their ilk can be found pounding the streets of Singapore.

Themed runs appear to be the next big thing in running events here, with My Little Pony, Pokemon, Snoopy and Garfield runs all being held in the past year.

Up next: The inaugural Star Wars Run on May 6.

A check with race organisers shows that slots in most, if not all, the runs were fully taken up.

For example, more than 14,000 people had registered their interest for the Star Wars Run, even before its early bird registration starts tomorrow. The capacity is 15,000 participants.

And the event has enjoyed a warm response even though organisers have yet to announce the route.

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Themed runs are making a big splash right now because people are not just interested in running, but it's about mixing exercise with entertainment.

JEFFREY FOO, managing director of Infinitus Productions, on the appeal of such activities.

The inaugural Pokemon Run held on Jan 14 and My Little Pony Run last February each drew about 6,000 runners, while the Hello Kitty Run attracted 18,000 participants in its first edition in 2014.

The bulk of these participants might not be serious runners, but they are fans of the brands.

Michelle Ng, marketing manager at Pink Apple, an events management company which organised the Garfield, Hello Kitty and My Little Pony runs, noted that casual runners form the majority of the participants at novel events.

Nearly 90 per cent of the crowd at the Hello Kitty Run are females, and My Little Pony Run attracted families with young girls.

Hannah Chang, associate professor of marketing at the Singapore Management University (SMU), noted: "Fun runs may have broader consumer appeal, attracting not just the regular runners but new segments of casual runners. Given that fans of cartoon characters are highly sensitive to their favourite characters, they will more likely notice announcements of these runs."

While in a typical running event, the race route is a highlight and clocking a fast timing is a target for racegoers, in fun runs, the main appeal for participants is being able to step inside the film or video game character's world.

For instance, Star Wars fans who sign up for the run will get collectible items including either a Yoda or Darth Vader plush toy inside their race packs.

And they can expect to take photographs with Stormtroopers and other popular characters from the films along the Marina Bay area during race day.

Sean Ong, race director of the Star Wars Run, which is organised by Esprimo, said: "The route will be dressed up to suit the theme and the Star Wars elements will make it a unique experience for fans.

"There are some items inside the race pack that cannot be bought off the shelves."

Engineering manager Smark Wu, 45, who ran with his younger daughter, Primary 3 pupil Ting Wei in the Garfield Run, felt that such runs are family-friendly. It is a less stressful and competitive environment as compared to a usual race.

He said: "Those cartoon characters can encourage the children to run and enjoy the event. The race pack is also attractive to children."

Ng added: "For fun runs, participants are less likely to look at their timing or results like they would in a conventional, competitive run.

"When we organise a fun run, especially character runs, it is important to stay true to the brand in order to give participants an immersive run experience."

More brand owners and entertainment companies are also jumping on the fun run bandwagon.

Anirban Mukherjee, assistant professor of marketing at SMU, explained: "There are benefits for both organisers and the brand. The brand gains exposure and it also contributes to the brand story. The consumers get a chance to interact with the brand mascots and engage with the brand.

" I think themed runs are here to stay and likely even expand in scope."

Jeffrey Foo, managing director of Infinitus Productions, who organised the recent Pokemon Run, said it is in talks with some anime companies which are interested to tag their characters to a running event.

He said: "Themed runs are making a big splash right now because people are not just interested in running, but it's about mixing exercise with entertainment.

"The market has opened up to attract people who love entertainment, and brand owners have seen how successful an event can be."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline 'Runs go with the force'. Print Edition | Subscribe