Run For A Reason

Director, John Le Cras was the principal architect of HBF Run for a Reason while General Manager, Communications at HBF from 2007 to 2011 just prior to launching JLCA. Here John explains the marketing strategy behind the event and why it was devised as so much more than just a fun run.



On taking over my role at HBF I was immediately faced with the challenge of creating greater brand engagement – especially among younger people.  While I was fortunate to have a large advertising budget, I was conscious that engaging prospective purchasers and maintaining the loyalty of existing customers with a product like health insurance is extremely challenging.  The simple fact is that most people only think about health insurance on two occasions – firstly when the price of their premiums goes up and secondly when they go to make a claim.   Outside of that most people are not that interested in engaging with a health insurance brand – it is not like a fashion product, car or fine wine but  is what marketers call a “grudge purchase” or something we buy only out of necessity.

It was obvious to me at the time that health insurance as a product category has largely become commoditised.  This means that consumers view pretty much all the products as the same and make their purchase decision predominantly based on price. This is extremely challenging for any business because it means getting involved in a race to the bottom, heavily discounting against other brands to win the price war.  For HBF that was a limited option at the time as the costs of health care were rising rapidly, especially with an ageing membership increasingly needing access to an array of expensive treatments such as hip and knee replacements.


I would often take time to sit in the call centre and listen to the conversations between our sales and service staff members, where I began to observe a fascinating phenomenon.  78-year-old Betty would call in about her claim and, talking to a total stranger (in this case 22-year-old Rick) would have absolutely no qualms about going into intricate details about her concerns about her upcoming surgery.  Often the surgery type was of a quite personal nature. I reached the conclusion that as a brand HBF was perceived in the mind of our members to be an integral part of their health.

Linked to that thought was our research that showed that, while younger people weren’t that interested in thinking about insurance, they were highly engaged when it came to fitness and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

From these two core observations came the strategic insight that by HBF starting its own running event it was creating a unique opportunity as a brand to engage far more deeply with its current and prospective future members.

But the strategy went much further than that in informing the design of the activity.  Every element of the event was based upon a key insight into human behaviour and how we could tap into emotional drivers – remembering that brand is largely all about emotion.

Firstly, we needed to be different – let’s face it, fun runs are a penny a dozen (or at least they were before COVID-19) wo we needed to motivate people to want to participate in our run versus all the others.  In large part our point of difference was encapsulated in the name “HBF Run for a Reason”.  We presented people with the opportunity to participate in the event for a whole host of reasons based on what was important to them.  Yes, there would be people who wanted to run to win… but we were more interested in the plodders and didn’t want the focus to be competition.  Instead, we seeded the idea in the minds of Western Australians that their motivation may be to run to achieve a personal fitness goal.

Timing was also a major factor.  The event was held in May and the reality for the participants was that it was more about the lead-up to the day than just the day of the run itself.  Again, an insight into human behaviour was crucial.  Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, many of us start the New Year with a common thought that this year we are finally going to get around to doing something about our physical fitness. So it was no coincidence that around the start of February, as people were getting back into the swing of normal life post the holiday season, HBF popped up as a brand with a proposition we felt might resonate: We’re organising a run in a few months’ time – how would you feel about taking part? This was evidence of a brand trying to be helpful and also showing it was human like them. 

Along with this, there was the invitation to consider running for another reason. We observed that often people feel quite helpless when a loved one or close friend is battling a disease or has recently passed away.  They want to do something to show their allegiance so the opportunity to dedicate their run to a person or a cause created enormous emotional attachment to the event. 

Thirdly, as an extension of this desire to take an action in support of a loved one or friend, we gave people the option to choose a health charity they could raise funds for. This introduced yet another element to this brand activity – even if you did not participate by walking or running, you might financially support someone else.

There was so much more to share but I realise you only have so much time.  However, there is one other element of HBF Run for a Reason that has made it so powerful as a strategy to lift brand awareness and allegiance and that is the shirt.  Aside from giving people a sense of belonging on race day, for years to come the HBF brand continues to benefit from the thousands of human billboards walking and running around Perth.  These were much more than just mobile billboards, this was a brand in action, creating an instant psychological linkage in the minds of consumers – this is the brand that helps you improve your health not just charge you money for insurance when you get sick!