Can branded content really inspire action and sell product?

Can branded content really inspire action and sell product?

It’s 2015 and I stumble across Salomon TV and the YouTube film, “Of Fells and Hills”.

I was looking for video examples of good branded content to put in front of Merrell and I came across the film above. Straight away it grips me, it’s authentic and it’s storytelling done really well. Maybe it’s the eerie whistling, maybe because I’m a northerner trapped in a southern persons life, racked with guilt and a romantic notion that I’m missing out on exploring the fells. Whatever it was, this film connected with me on an emotional level and it still does, I’ve probably watched it fifty times.

The film itself depicts a sport that is the anthesis of the overly commercialised sports of running, cycling and triathlon, sports I’d been involved with for 25 years. Ironman for example is now owned by the Wanda Group, and run with the sole purpose of profitability and growth, sadly it shows. It’s clear from the film that fell running is the last bastion of a past era.

The term “fell” is an often used Northern England expression for hill or mountain. It is presumed that Shepherds were probably the first ever fell runners with the earliest documented accounts of running in the fells dating back to the 11th Century. By the 19th century organised fell runs began taking place in Cumbria in the United Kingdom. Locals raced each other up and down hills and a sport was born.

At races you won’t see many sponsors or banners. You’ll likely see the ubiquitous Pete Bland van (above) selling his running wares but generally the format remains unchanged over the decades.

Pete Bland sports van

Pete Bland’s Van

A pair of studded running shoes, a vest and shorts and it’s away you go. First the top of the hill and back is the winner. £50 if you can break the course record, which by the way would probably have been set by one of the key protagonists in the film. Because Billy Bland, Kenny Stewart, Josh Naylor are the best sportsman you’ve probably never heard of. Their athletic feats predated the information era and social media’s voracious appetite to spread news of heroics was merely a twinkle in the eye of those who witnessed them.

Billy Bland at Moot Hall following his successful Bob Graham Round

During the film they talk to local legend, Billy Bland, his straight talking, no nonsense, self deprecating character is part of the magic of the film.

People put thee on a pedestal, but I don’t, that was as good as I was and so what
Billy Bland, Of Fells and Hills

It was in 1982 that Billy, ably assisted by some of the best runners of the era, had a full on assault on the Bob Graham Round. He set a record of just under 14 hours that to this day hasn’t been beat. Unsurprisingly the Bob Graham Round was named after the man who conceived it in the first place. The challenge takes in 42 Lakeland Peaks over 66 miles (106km) and includes 29,000ft (8700m) of climbing and descending over some of the roughest ground in the UK. Bob, a guest house owner from Keswick was attempting to break the record for the most number of summits in 24 hours. In 1932, aged 42 he set out from Moot Hall in Keswick and completed the challenge. Over the years it’s gained a reputation as THE toughest single day endurance challenge in the UK and there’s now even a club with over 2000 finishers. I calculated that in 2018 I’d be 42 and there was a nice symmetry about 42 Peaks, 24 hours @ 42. So in 2015 the seed was planted and that was that, until I rediscovered the film in 2017 and it all came flooding back. I felt it was time to do something about it. I set out on a mission to become a fell runner and ultimately to take on the Bob Graham Round myself.

For the last 9 months I’ve been carefully putting the individual pieces into my dry stone wall, attempting to turn a 90kg flat loving athlete into a fell runner. Balancing on one leg whilst cleaning my teeth to strengthen my ankles, trips to the north of England to compete in fell races like the 23 mile 3 Peaks, hundreds of hours climbing the equivalent of Everest in the stairwell here at work, near death experiences on ice covered mountains in micro spikes, hours pouring over maps learning the route.

The Saw - North Downs
In search of 10,000ft of climbing per week. A typical weekend session on the North Downs.

At midnight this Friday 29th June 2018,  I’ll be setting off from Moot Hall in Keswick on my own Bob Graham Round attempt. The route is broken up into 5 legs and on each summit I’ll need a witness. I’ll be surrounded by a road and run crew of 14. Some friends and some strangers, such is the camaraderie associated with the challenge. All united by the spirit of what Bob Graham represents. Membership of The Bob Graham Round 24 club simply requires you get over all 42 peaks and return back to Moot Hall in 24 hours. Simple. It’s certainly the toughest thing I’ve ever attempted and that includes running every day for a year in 2013, being the first person Everest Box Hill, running a sub 2.45 marathon, walking the English Coast to Coast, completing the Pennine Way, qualifying and finishing the Hawaii Ironman and many other endurance feats.

So branded content has inspired action in this athlete. But the story doesn’t end positively though. Salomon were the brand behind the content, yet 9 months ago when I started my transition to fell runner I went with Inov8 as my shoe of choice. In fact I own two pairs and have recently replaced my trusty Mudclaw 300s ready for my attempt on Bob Graham. If I deep dig into my subconscious it was around 2012/13 where the buzz from influencers in my triathlon circle of friends highlighted Inov8 as THE brand to use on the trail. This coupled with some product research which overwhelmingly recommended Mudclaws as the go to fell running shoe, and Salomon never made the cut.  Couple this with Inov8 being associated with Nicky Spinks, fell runnings equivalent of royalty and I was won over. The film below, another example of gripping branded content, is a great watch and follows Nicky on her remarkable double Bob Graham. 

So as I sign off I’m excited and slightly scared about the weekend. I’ve laid it all on the line. I’ve sacrificed a lot of spare time, spent time away from my family on weekends and all my friends and family know I’m doing this thing. I believe I’ll be successful but I’l certainly be finding new limits.

I’ll be wearing a GPS tracker on my arm, so if you’re interested in following a dot on a map, you can do this via the wonders of modern technology. There’s tonnes of potential to further gamify this type of friends and family viewing experience but that’s a future article in itself. The link below is all you need for now.

http://live.opentracking.co.uk/bg2018/?n=23

I’m also raising money for the chosen charity of a man who embodied the spirit of Bob Graham. A man who with his wife Wyn, has helped 100s of challengers over the years, including me back in 2017. Sadly Steve Cliff passed away earlier this year but his legacy lives on.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/roger-barr2

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