Brand Strategy

Why the organization behind ‘Got Milk?’ is creating a marathon for women

The aim is to make dairy milk “as relevant as possible,” MilkPEP CEO Yin Woon Rani said.
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· 5 min read

Some brands sponsor sporting events. The advertising arm of the dairy-milk industry is creating one of its own.

The milk industry has long tried to appeal to women and mothers, and the Milk Processor Education Program, aka MilkPEP, has embraced running as a way to reach them since 2022, when it set up a sponsorship program called Team Milk tied to the New York City Marathon before sponsoring several regional and national races last year.

The positive response to those efforts “created this opportunity in our minds, given there is no national-level marathon for just women at a full length,” MilkPEP CEO Yin Woon Rani told Marketing Brew. “When we did the research, what was interesting to discover was that a majority of women who run don’t find the races naturally designed for the female experience.”

So MilkPEP, along with its agency of record, Gale, decided to make one: The Every Woman’s Marathon, which aims to elevate women runners, raise money for charity, and “make milk matter more” again, as Rani put it, as the industry faces increasing competition from nondairy alternatives.

Devil’s Dairy’s in the details

The marathon, scheduled for Nov. 16 in Savannah, Georgia, is not only made for women, but also by them. MilkPEP and Gale put together an advisory board of women runners, including Kathrine Switzer, who, in 1967, became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon; paratriathlete Danielle McLaughlin; Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor; 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden; and runner, author, and activist Alison Mariella Desir.

The women on the board will help design and promote the experience, according to Brad Simms, Gale’s president and CEO. Some, like Linden, will focus on more experienced athletes, and others, like Desir, will appeal to first-time runners, Rani said. They’ll also pitch in during race weekend; Kastor, for instance, will host cooking and yoga classes.

The event, which costs $65 to enter—with a discounted rate for members of Team Milk—will span two days and is designed to serve as a “female wellness festival, in some ways” Rani said—complete with music and classes like Kastor’s beyond the marathon itself. While it’s designed with women in mind, the marathon is open to people of all genders.

Fuel up

Engaging with the running community has a track record of success for MilkPEP. Last year, a content series highlighting the stories of runners represented four of MilkPEP’s top 10 best-performing social posts, according to Gale. While the marathon is designed to be a large, in-person experience, there’s also an online component, Rani told us.

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“We love the experiences, and we love the in-real-life community, but frankly, it’s also fuel for a larger content ecosystem,” she said. “A lot of women prefer to train in a running group or have an online support system, so we’re going to use the events to fuel that content ecosystem as well as put out really meaningful content.”

The advisory board will also help there, Rani said, creating training guides for other women runners.

Ideally, the guides will help encourage people to sign up for the race, Simms said, but MilkPEP and Gale aren’t relying on that alone. To start, they recruited activist and Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman to write and read the copy for a promo video for the marathon, in which she’s featured alongside a diverse roster of women runners.

The video got 80,000 views on YouTube in one day, and an ad version that ran on TikTok was viewed more than 60,000 times and shared about 1,600 times the same afternoon that it was first posted, according to Gale.

Finish line

MilkPEP is also promoting the event to Team Milk, its sponsorship program that’s open to any woman training for any marathon. In addition to supporting members on the days of their races, the Every Woman’s Marathon included, MilkPEP matches their registration fees with donations to charity.

The program has over 22,000 members, according to Simms; at last year’s New York City Marathon, one in five women runners, or 4,400, were part of Team Milk, he said. For the Every Woman’s Marathon, MilkPEP is hoping to see signups “in the thousands,” Simms told us, but considering the emphasis on wellness overall and activities outside of the race itself, it’s not the only metric they’re tracking. Rani said that MilkPEP will also be running surveys to gauge the event’s effects on consumer attitudes around dairy milk.

“It all fits under that central mission of making milk matter more,” she said. “We really believe that we’re making milk as relevant as possible in modern culture. We believe deeply that the product is providing the right set of benefits to be in the modern wellness conversation, so by doing frankly interesting, and disruptive, and noteworthy, and culturally relevant things, we want to be in that conversation.”

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