Companies, Reed added, have to ask, “Is it worth it to dilute my target market at the expense of possibly diluting my brand?”
Brooks said its holiday catalog had helped sales, but the company declined to provide figures. The company also said it planned to continue the theme in its March catalog, conveying inspirational stories through real runners.
One is Gabriele Grunewald, a professional middle-distance runner sponsored by Brooks who is being treated for a rare cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma, but continues to compete. Another is Julie Lam, an Ironman triathlete who began running in her 40s after a six-month period in which her father and grandfather died and she got divorced.
Carey, a communications and marketing manager for a nonprofit, said that members of her group were not paid in cash for appearing in the catalog, but that they got to keep the clothes they wore. And they got to impart the mission of Black Girls Run in a way they had not expected.
She and Kline have no doubt that Brooks was wise to focus on how running can build communities. “Oh my God, these brands are actually getting it,” Carey said.
Kline, an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch in Bellevue, Wash., said: “I think it’s genius. I have no financial interest in Brooks, but I hope they blow the doors off.”
Like Carey, he said that he and his group had not received compensation for appearing in the catalog, and he added that he would not have accepted cash if it had been offered.
Kline remembers being dismissed when he initially approached various philanthropic organizations about finding young people with disabilities that prevented them from pushing themselves through the typical wheelchair division of a marathon.
He said the charities “told me it was a dumb idea” and insisted that their clients would prefer visiting a theme park to being pushed through a marathon.
But Kline knew he needed a new approach to running. He was getting almost bored after competing in marathons for more than a decade. He had qualified for and run in the Boston Marathon, and he had done ultras — races even longer than marathons. But the goals he had set for himself no longer seemed all-consuming.
So Kline persisted in seeking a rider-athlete — his preferred term for Marathons With Meaning partners — and found Taylor Little. Their time in that debut race in Las Vegas was more than an hour and a half slower than Kline’s best as a solo marathoner: 3:55 at the same event five years earlier. But speed was beside the point. He had rediscovered his passion.
Little’s mother, Eden Capsouto, said she too had felt the emotional tug of inclusion.
“I was waiting at the sideline as the mother of an athlete,” she said. “It was very cool.”