At first glance, a sock company sponsoring a walking event may not appear more innovative or interesting than any other endemic partnership.

But in the case of THOR-LO, Inc. and the Breast Cancer 3-Day series, the tie’s execution demonstrates many qualities of an exemplary sponsorship.

Unlike many first-time sponsors, THOR-LO has come out of the gate with a multi-faceted activation program rather than gradually building the relationship.

At the core of the partnership is a six-figure-per-year, multiyear sponsorship between the manufacturer of Thorlos “activity-specific socks” and the 12-stop, August-through-November series of walks that benefits Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund.

THOR-LO is leveraging the partnership with on- and off-site activities that include a pink-padded sock made exclusively for event participants and a donation-with-purchase cause marketing program that will raise additional funds beyond the company’s $250,000 annual commitment.

The company aligned with the 3-Day after marketing staff participated in the series’ Atlanta event last year and gained a first-hand look at how the property could provide a targeted platform to reach active consumers.

“When we saw these women in this environment and the problems they were having with their feet, we realized the sponsorship was a perfect fit for our company,” said Jeff Lawson, marketing director.

“The sponsorship gives us the chance to educate consumers on foot health issues and showcase our product in the most challenging of conditions.”

The company also hopes to distinguish itself from other sock manufacturers. “Socks are a commoditized product–this is a great platform to differentiate our product to people who are going to encounter foot health issues,” Lawson said.

The partnership is one of the newest ties for THOR-LO, which also sponsors running, tennis and other activities for which it makes socks. The company offers products specifically designed for hiking, camping and skiing, among other pursuits.

In addition to the 3-Day, the company this year signed new deals with the ATP Delray Beach Int’l Tennis Championships in Pompano Beach, Fla. and the ATP Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and WTA Cellular South Cup in Memphis.

How THOR-LO Is Walking The Walk
THOR-LO is leveraging the partnership by giving a free pair of its specially-designed HEROs Distance Walker socks to approximately 40,000 walk participants and volunteers. The company mails the pair to event registrants in a co-branded box that also includes a 24-page booklet on foot care and the importance of training.

Those same socks are the object of the cause marketing program. THOR-LO is offering a $6 donation with purchase of six pairs. Consumers can purchase the socks–which sell for $12.99 a pair–through the company’s Web site or a toll-free number.

“This is one of the strongest activation programs that we’ve seen from a first-time 3-Day series sponsor,” said Jodi Benefiel, Komen’s manager of corporate sponsorships.

“They have raised the bar in helping participants and by creating a cause marketing overlay to provide additional funds.”

THOR-LO has still more plans to leverage the 3-Day. Later this year, it intends to roll out a co-branded fitness walking sock that will be sold through athletic shoe retailers, with the company making a donation to the cause with each sale. THOR-LO plans to promote the shoe and walks through in-store collateral.

It also plans to have footcare experts on-site at each event to discuss foot health and THOR-LO products, Lawson added.

“We feel it is important to give the program a lot of legs that help us engage event participants,” he said.

How The 3-Day Partnership Came About
Last summer, Jordan Carlson, a 17-year-old whose mother was twice diagnosed with breast cancer, approached Sally Nix, a 3-Day participant and coach for other walkers, about gaining sponsorship for Carlson’s attempt to raise $1 million by participating in all of the 3-Days.

Nix, who had received donations of socks from THOR-LO for her own participation in multiple walks, suggested reaching out to the company, whose Statesville, N.C. headquarters is near Carlson’s hometown.

THOR-LO execs were impressed with the teen’s goals and signed up for a training walk prior to the Atlanta stop last fall to gain a better understanding of the property.

It was there that Lawson saw an opportunity to help the cause as well as generate awareness and sales of the company’s products.

“We don’t spend a lot of money on traditional advertising because we find the best way to spend our marketing dollars is to have people experience our products first-hand,” he said.

In November, Lawson reached out to Benefiel about a national participation with the series.

The 3-Day series also has national sponsorship from National Beverage Corp.’s LaCroix sparkling water and New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc.

LaCroix is offering a $1 donation to the cause for each UPC mailed in by consumers up to a maximum of $50,000.

The New Balance deal is part of the company’s Komen sponsorship, which features the Lace Up for the Cure collection of shoes, from which New Balance donates 15 percent of wholesale sales, with a guaranteed minimum of $500,000 and a maximum of $1 million.