Blog Part 1 – Emotions Running High


A DI blog about the 2016 London Marathon isn’t going to summarise the facts and stats of this iconic event. Here at DI we figure that all that has already been recorded and reported elsewhere, and, we tend to look at things differently.

As purveyors of digital behavioural intelligence.. we’re far more interested in the emotions that engage both participants and spectators in this incredible event.  We want to know what they do, buy and feel from day 1 of training, to day 80 at the start line.  What their families and friends experience as they support and nurture their loved ones over 3 gruelling months of personal sacrifice and dedication.

Why are we interested in this?  Because we understand the creative and commercial value of true and deep behavioural insights.   Being a blog, we’re short on space so we’ve focused on two key insight sources and split our blog into 2 parts.

Part 1 focuses on the key EMOTIONS EXPERIENCED AND EXPRESSED by participants and spectators in the 24hours around the event (6pm Sat to 6pm Sun).

Part 2 focuses on the product purchase behaviours of participants through the 3 month training, pre-race and recovery phases.  Read Part 2 here



The wordcloud below summarises the key emotions expressed over the 24hr period, the top 3 ranking as 1) Inspiration 2) Nerves and 3) Pride.

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Inspiration comes in many forms.

  • Supporters, spectators and the secondary / at home audiences are inspired by watching. From the epic scale and panoramic chopper shots of the streets of London, to the pain and joy on the faces of tens of thousands of brave participants and loved ones.
  • Recipient charities express high volumes of deep gratitude and inspiration for their fundraising-runners and supporters.
  • Those in training for up and coming running events (Brighton, Edinburgh Marathons etc) share how the London Marathon has further inspired their choice to take part in an event of their own.
  • Along with those so inspired by the 2016 event that they are discussing and considering signing up for the 2017 ballot in May.

What’s interesting though, was the near 50/50 split in source of this data set.  While the first half presented by individuals sharing genuinely expressed ‘inspiration’, the second half presented ‘inspiration’ in the context of selling and advertising.  Selling private training services, running classes, books, clubs, kit, gear, gadgets and clothing lines. And, of course, other run organisers promoting sign up to participate in their events.

One clear winner, cutting through the noise, was the NHS Choices ‘Couch to 5k’ initiative.  We observed a great many shares of this content by inspired viewers claiming to have downloaded the iTunes workout plan with the real ambition of running a 5k by the year end.

What this tells us is that, as brand advisors to any rights owner or holder operating in the running space, the term ‘Inspiration’ should be avoided.  It is ubiquitous, overused by other brands and, when used by individuals, not by the individuals a brand would think they should be reaching.  Inspiration was most expressed by spectators, bystanders, people watching from their couches and armchairs.  People who don’t run, may never run but are inspired by watching those who can and do.  Inspiration is clearly an effective term for mobilising this segment as demonstrated by the NHS but – for creatives – this would not be the term upon which a major brand-led activation plan would gain traction with the target consumer.



The emotions we observed that were least harnessed by brands but most expressed by actual participants and active runners and running communities were; PRIDE, NERVOUS READINESS and STRENGTH.   These terms occupy that rich future-campaign white-space for brands and operators in the running sectors.  Naturally there are many translations and contexts that these terms occupied in the data we observed (and we wont be giving those away here).

Following months of training, preparation and sacrifice, we know that people standing at that starting line feel huge pride in the achievement of just getting to that point, absolute (if nervous) readiness for the task ahead and a huge sense of personal and physical strength.

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The terms ‘pride/proud of’ and ‘nervous’ were also highly used by supporting family members and friends of participants.  This is a demonstration of emotional contagion where the feelings of two or more people, who are united by a common experience, ‘emotionally converge’ (Hatfield et al).  The spouse, mother, friend or brother of a participant will feel just as proud and just as nervous as their loved one will on the morning of the event because, according to neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese, they – as observers and supporters of the training journey – will be sharing what is known as a ‘direct experiential understanding’ of the acute emotional states at play pre-race.

Why is this important? Because engaging not only a participant in a brand campaign with strong emotional traction, but also their loved ones and support network, is surely a win-win for all in terms of salience and consideration?

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By synthesising big digital-data analysis with behavioural science we at DI provide bespoke insight generation on any subject matter.  From politics to marathons, from FMCG to household appliances.  Traditional research might tell you WHAT is happening, DI tell you WHY things are happening.

DI can inform the creative and planning process of campaigns.  The commercial strategy of customer, influencer and rights holder identification. Deep behavioural and engagement tracking of campaign performance and purchase journey analysis specific to any sector.


DI’s emotional analysis was undertaken on the evening of Sunday 24 April using the super-speedy new Brandwatch Query Wizard.

We sliced the digital data to present all online mentions from 6pm on Sat 23 April – 6pm Sun 24 April.  We then probed the data for core emotional expressions, analysed these expressions in context (by user type) and then framed the expressions behaviourally through the disciplines of psychology and neuroscience and human physiology.


For more information follow us @DI_Insights or say hi via hello@disruptiveinsight.co.uk

Thanks for reading.

© Disruptive Insight 2015.