How To Oversell and Under Deliver

Alexander Novicov
11 min readMay 17, 2024
Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash

Selling hype is not cool, and you can’t get away with it in 2024. I’m shocked how companies think they can.

I feel that in today’s world there is so much emphasis on the promotion aspect, promote this, promote that, just get more followers and likes at all costs and focus on getting more people at the top of the funnel.

There is a huge emphasis in the marketing world on promoting a brand and not working on product development and it frustrates me, because I can see myself doing the same thing.

I used to do that for years — my focus was to get as many clients as I could, deliver the service, get paid and find new clients and grow the company. This came from listening to various business leaders like Grant Cardone with his 10X book and GaryVee with the hustle, hustle mentality.

It’s not until two years ago that I realized that the product I’m delivering is below average or average at best. Yes, I have knowledge in marketing and storytelling but is this knowledge converting into a great execution? After writing my book Not Another Pair of Shoes in 2021 I came to the conclusion that I need to work on the product.

Delivering a below average speech at a conference in 2014

The product is me — work on improving my storytelling skills, my writing, my public speaking. Work on articulating better and understand human psychology better. It was then when I stopped being obsessed with reading MORE books. Rather than reading 40 books a year I started reading LESS books a year and rereading books because it’s way more important to go deep than learn on the surface level.

This weekend I ran and finished a race called UTS (Ultra Trail Snowdonia). It was 100km long with 6,400 meters elevation, and I realized how they manipulated their marketing with content. I got frustrated because my expectations of them were high because it was a “By UTMB” event — they are one of the biggest trail running organizers in the world, who merged with Ironman Group.

Finishing UTS 100km

I believe my expectations were high because when I’ve done previous Ironman events they were some of the best events — from the start to the finish line. So in my mind as it’s a company that is owned by Ironman — surely they can learn from them and deliver a top notch product.

And not only that, I’ve seen how UTVV Slovenia does their events. In February I ran Transgrancanaria and I’ve done other ultra trail events, and I have to say my expectations of a ‘Global Brand’ were high.

UTVV Slovenia 2024

The start line and the finish line at UTS was appalling. On their videos they show you how hyped up their start line is, they have an MC, they have a show, they have a huge thing going on on their videos but in reality it was a disaster. The MC didn’t have any energy to hype up the runners (100 miler and 100 km starting line). Two minutes before the race they were doing a race briefing. This should be done way before, one minute before the start the MC asked the front runners to turn on their headlamps for the media team. This is very selfish, as you want the runners before the start to turn on their lights so you can take a few pictures to promote your below average event? Or clap for the race director before the start. Again how ego driven can you be? It’s not about the race director or the brand. It should be about the athlete.

Last year, with my video consultant Lily, I analyzed their promotional video and she showed me how many technical mistakes their video had — wrong screen direction, wrong scenes, no story, just nice images with scenery. I wondered if they care to hire someone who can deliver a wow video.

Well, I got my answer this weekend. They actually don’t care. I was following them on Instagram for a year (unfollowed them now as their content is boring) and saw that their content was again below average, just nice shots of Snowdonia but no substance. I asked myself don’t they want to create better content? They are a “By UTMB” event. Again, I got my answer — they don’t care. It reflects how much effort they put — minimum!

A technical article I wrote about UTS and posted it in a group. William has a very good point.
At a checkpoint I asked for a spray for cramps and they said they don’t have any. It’s an AID station that’s a basic thing that you should have.

They sell out their event because it’s the only event in the UK (except for the new race they recently bought, Arc Of Attrition) that is by UTMB, and people want their running stones so they can get into a lottery and hopefully go to Chamonix.

They did have some amazing volunteers, and the food at aid stations was great. But as an experience overall it was a below average product with stunning views. There was no soul, no passion at the event. They didn’t even have proper music at the start line and aid stations lacked energy and music.

Compare this to UTVV, where the aid stations are like a party, and Transgrancanaria was full of life. At Transgrancanaria men dressed in costumes and wigs were cheering for you and shouting ‘vamos, vamos, vamos’. During the race somewhere on the trails they had a band singing with drums and cheering on you. Small details make a huge difference.

Transgrancanaria 2024 Start

Support crew were allowed only at two aid stations — at 20 km and 80 km — which makes it even harder. People travel from abroad to support you and help you. The only reason I didn’t DNF at Transgrancanaria was because of my partner Anja, who was at nearly every aid station. I don’t know the details at Snowdonia why they don’t allow support crew at other aid stations but okay.

Here’s the problem: the views are stunning, yes, but what is your brand promise?

Their tagline is “Meet your extraordinary” but what does it mean? I met my extraordinary because I pushed through pain and suffering and I finished in 22 hours. Does it mean that you as a brand have to meet your extraordinary? I don’t understand.

Great imagery, but no substance.

That’s the biggest problem with taglines, big companies slap taglines on and do nice logos but there is no soul in the brand.

I feel disappointed with them because I invested so much money, time and energy to have all the mandatory kit and my training and yet when you show up, the brand itself under delivers.

Another comment about the article I wrote about UTS

On the other hand I got inspired by them to write a book about hype and product.

Ironman on the other hand had one of the most stunning start lines, the Irish MC had a positive energy about her, you could feel the energy and the hype. The DJ knew what songs to play and you felt ready to go and tackle the challenge in front of you.

Transgrancanaria had an amazing start with a Spanish MC and an English MC that was shouting on top of his lungs, they had mini fireworks and you felt inspired to tackle the challenge in front of you.

UTVV Emperor Start 2024

UTVV Slovenia had men dressed as Roman warriors led by the Emperor on the horse. The MC was inspiring runners by telling them how this journey is theirs, how their warriors (runners) trained hard for this journey. The music was blasting with inspiring songs. When I was at UTVV just two weeks ago I felt emotional at the Emperor start line as the words, the music and the energy was magical. It had a soul.

At UTS the MC at some point said ‘let’s connect emotionally now’ — really? You don’t say that, you actually do that. It’s like saying to a partner, ‘let’s fall in love now!’

The finish line as well was like a park run finish. Yes, the volunteers clapped but compare it to Ironman and Transgrancanaria is nowhere close.

At Ironman every finisher feels like a podium winner because everyone gets to hear the magical words: ‘Alex, you are an Ironman’. The MC even shook my hand. At Transgrancanaria when I finished at around 02:30 in the morning the MC called out my name and said Alexander Novicov from Cyprus … the rest I don’t remember as I was so tired and exhausted.

The finisher t-shirt of UTS won the award for the cheapest quality and ugliest t-shirt ever. The goodie bag had a sticker for your car with a UTS logo — again an ego driven goodie bag, vs other races like Transgrancanaria who give you a vest, creams, proper goodies. The finisher t-shirt at Transgrancanaria is top notch quality from Northface that I wear all the time and when you finish the race they give you a top notch high quality jacket from Northface that I wear all the time as well.

Northface Finisher Jacket at Transgrancanaria 2024

In terms of value for money it’s nowhere close to other races: (100km if you sign up early)

For Transgrancanaria you pay £120 for the race. You get a high quality Northface finisher t-shirt, you get a Northface jacket, you get branded merch from partners, you get a race belt, a reusable cup. You have 10 checkpoints that at nine your support crew are allowed to come, you get aid stations packed with food (not a lot of vegan options but okay). You get atmosphere at the start, during the race and in the end. You can feel that locals really go above and beyond for this event.

For UTVV Slovenia you pay £96 and you get 10 times the value. High quality finisher t-shirt by sport HG, Alive drops, race belt, branded merch from partners, free coaching webinars from top notch coaches before the race, inspiring content on socials during the whole year. Aid stations that are packed with food and lots of options, atmosphere that is on another level at the start and during the event. And you can feel the events soul and the community cares about the event.

For UTS you pay £225 and you get a below average product a cheap finisher t-shirt a UTS sticker and a UTMB bag that you can use for dirty laundry. The locals for some reason are not very welcoming, we went to a restaurant and asked the waitress if they are very busy now and she didn’t even know an event was happening. She mumbled something and left it’s like she didn’t want us there.

For me, there is a huge lesson to be learned here. Focus on delivering a wow product, focus on market research and product development and not marketing and hyping up below average product. Yes, they are probably going to sell out next year’s event because people want running stones and some people might have low expectations and low standarts which is okay. But we can all learn to focus all our energy first on making sure our product is really top notch.

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

That’s why it’s important to do market research, go to other races, ask runners to have honest conversations, and be genuine that you want to improve and put the runners first.

When I was struggling and going uphill on Snowdon I was constantly telling myself that “I’m a warrior, I’m challenging myself to push my boundaries’ ‘ which is a brand story from UTVV. How bizarre is a trail runner doing another race and using another’s brand story to motivate himself?

When I saw their race video and how they manipulated the start with effects I just said to myself that this is really unethical as you are manipulating. They edited their race video as it was something exciting and wow, it wasn’t.

Here is how the start was:

Word of mouth will always win, it doesn’t matter how big you are. We’ve seen companies like Blockbusters, Kodak and others fail because they thought they were too big to fail. Yes they will last more in the market because they have cash flow and investors to back them up but it doesn’t matter how much you spin your content and make it look great, people will always talk and trust their peers and friends.

You can have the best marketing and the best content but if the product is below average you will be constantly battling to find new customers and convince people to come back.

Transgrancanaria Expo

The best strategy is to put your customers first, be customer focused and even if you mess up people will forgive you because you are authentic and true. Nike has many examples where they didn’t create the best product and they failed multiple times but they came back, stopped selling that product and promised to deliver.

For race directors doing races one of the most important questions that I believe runners need to know is, what is your brand promise?

It’s not telling that “you care” it’s showing that you care and your customer is focused. You show that you want to improve and make improvements.

I have two more races by UTMB this year (ValDaran and Kullamanen) which will give me a better perspective of the brand as it’s different races and hopefully I can have a different opinion about them.

I guess the other element plays a role is that when people were commenting negative things about UTMB I always gave them a benefit of the doubt and even at conferences I spoke at I always said we can all learn from them. If their race was £50 I wouldn’t have high expectations, but when you charge so much money and you are part of Ironman, of course you have higher expectations. It’s like going to buy a Porsche but in the end getting a Honda with Porsche keyring and paying Porsche pricing.

Photo by Philippe Oursel on Unsplash

For me right now the biggest take away is to go back and analyze my own product, invest in my own product development, improve my skill sets and deliver for my clients so they can make an impact because if I have an average product or below average product what is the point? I don’t believe in mediocrity. I believe we all have potential to push our boundaries and be of service to others.

The best marketing is done by customers who tell their friends how great a product or a brand is. When a customer speaks about the brand and tells how great the product is then you know you are on to something.

If you need help with your brand storytelling, let’s have a chat and see if I can help you. You can find my calendar here.

Every week I send a Thoughtful Letter with ideas on brand purpose, brand storytelling and creativity, you can sign up here.

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Alexander Novicov

I wake up every day striving to become the best version of myself. I’m a human, an author, ultra runner, skydiver, speaker and CEO at Way Boutique Agency.