The Color Run was in town yesterday — I know because the police blocked off the road to Munny Sokol Park, where I often walk my dog on the weekend. And a few Facebook friends are already posting pics, clad in white, smiling, awaiting the colored cornstarch that hits them in different zones along the 5 k race.
Don’t know much about it? Check this out then:
It’s a fairly new event (begun last year in Arizona) and I admit that I have no idea what it’s all about, apart from getting dirty in a colorful way; in fact, I just assumed it was yet another cancer awareness activity that takes place throughout the U.S. (and now around the world). So I fired up the laptop after our walk, merged onto the information superhighway, and learned two curiously different things. For on the one hand, their own About Us page says:
While The Color Run event is all about fun and positive energy, the 5k also focuses on promoting healthy living. More than 60 percent of Color Runners are first-time 5k runners and the event is making headway on the growing national focus of improving health and wellness.
Whereas Wikipedia says from the outset:
The Color Run is an event that is owned and operated by The Color Run LLC, a for-profit company
Now, the company’s own website says as much, of course (though you have to dig just a little, I admit), so it’s not like I stumbled upon a secret. But the curious thing to me was the ease with which I drew upon some sort of folk knowledge in my attempt to make sense of it, knowledge likely related (now that I think about it) to my awareness of the more off-beat fund raising associated with such diseases as breast cancer (e.g., “Save the Tatas“). Who knows why else, but the last thing that I assumed was that all those runners were just customers — that “fun and positive energy” and even “healthy living” and “wellness” were merely the rhetorical, marketing means to this particular corporation’s profit-motive end (much like how a carbonated beverage and its supposed “refreshing” taste, is really just the means to increase the profitability of the Coca-Cola corporation’s brand).
So while I’m not interested in critiquing the owners of this corporation (though it would be interesting to compare the $600,000 they report having raised in 2012 for charities to their profits for 2012 [of course there’s no requirement for private companies to declare any of this]– a point others have raised as well), I am interested in the strategic manner in which the tactical conditions of their private enterprise (held on public land, like the city park here in Tuscaloosa) seem to obscure so effectively what is going on, for I have a hunch that I’m not the only one who thinks that this is a non-profit enterprise, i.e., an event that is about something other than making a buck or that the runners are not just customers having a particular experience (“The thrill of getting covered in paint,” as one Alabama participant phrased it last year) that makes it seem worthwhile paying $40.00 each to (let’s be honest) get sweaty and dirty (if you registered early this year, that is).
It therefore seems as if the apparent simplicity — dare I say authenticity? — of the event (white t-shirts, lots of colored powder, etc.) helps to distract the eye from the trademark symbol on the t-shirts they sell (a steal at $20 for men’s sizes). Perhaps there’s a lesson here for anyone interested in some social engineering of their own: keep it simple, stupid. Oh, and get a permit to hold your private event in a public park — there’s no overhead, taxpayers already installed the plumbing for the bathrooms, and who, apart from the odd dog owner, can complain about a colorful Munny Sokol Park when the paying customers all go home for a shower? And then you can go on, take the money and run….