KD walks its own path to Olympic sponsorship

There is perhaps no Olympic sport more derided or misunderstood than race walking. Watching people briskly walking, hips sassily swaying from side-to-side, butt cheeks clenched like they’re not so much powering purposefully towards the finish line but the nearest available bathroom, is more likely to be a source of merriment than marvelment.

Even Google doesn’t seem to have much respect for the sport—which is said to have originated during the Victorian-era and was once known as “pedestrianism.” After typing in “Has a race walker ever…” in what was intended as a query to determine if a race walker has even been sponsored by a brand, the suggested auto-fill was “been married.” Which just feels unnecessarily cruel.

It’s often dismissed as goofy, but race walking is actually far more gruelling and difficult than it seems. Yet it’s seemingly destined to be forever overshadowed by glamour events like track or swimming. There’s never been a race walker on a box of Wheaties.

But leave it to an irreverent brand like Kraft Dinner to take a different tack with its first ever Olympic sponsorship. The brand announced today that it has partnered with Canadian race walker Evan Dunfee, a medal hopeful from Richmond, B.C. who has been race walking since age 10 and finished just outside the medals at the 2016 Rio Games, finishing fourth in the 50km event.

The goal, says Kraft, is to take Dunfee from “unsung legend” to household name. “Evan doesn’t have the whole country behind him yet, and KD won’t stand for that,” said the Kraft Heinz Canada brand announcing the sponsorship.

The accompanying ad campaign from Rethink is launching with online video and a TV spot calling on Canadians to walk together. It will also drive awareness on social by sharing tidbits from Dunfee’s Olympic journey.

The brand has also enlisted micro-influencers to show Canadians innovative ways to get their steps in, while “KD X ED” signature kits will be distributed to Canadians who share their own race walking videos on social, tagging Kraft and using the hashtag #KDRaceWalkers.

“Like many Canadians, I grew up eating Kraft Dinner and dreaming about being an Olympian,” said Dunfee. “Now, both my dreams of being an Olympian and landing a sponsorship with my favourite childhood mac and cheese have come true. Having so many Canadians take to the streets and step along, walking in support, gives me the extra motivation I need to push for gold.”

“As KD entered into the Olympic conversation for the first time, we wanted to do so in a way that was authentically KD,” said Brian Neumann, associate director of brand build and innovation with Kraft Heinz. “When we came across Evan, we saw how he perfectly embodied the KD Spirit of unapologetically pursuing your passion, and were surprised at the lack of support being shown to this medal hopeful. We’re proud to bring two Canadian icons together this summer and to support Evan in his pursuit of gold.”

Chris Powell