Nike has turned the city of London into a game board for a two-week competition called the GRID which the shoe manufacturer hopes will ultimately encourage young people who already jog for exercise to start identifying themselves as "runners."
The company has broken the city down into its 48 zip codes. Each zip code (or "postal code" as they say in England) has four traditional phone boxes. Players compete by doing runs, which they start by going to one of the phone boxes, dialing a specific number, entering their unique identifier, and then following the instructions they're given, which send them to other phone boxes in the city.
The first GRID competition was held back in April, around the time of the London Marathon. In an essay  that ran in a British advertising magazine, Graeme Douglas of Wieden+Kennedy, which developed the game, wrote that when Nike approached them with the task of getting young people engaged in running, they didn’t have a specific idea about how to do that. "It was evident from the start that a message-based campaign wasn’t going to be enough," Douglas wrote. "We needed to get people out and active; and introduce to them a new way to run."
Douglas goes on to say, "We decided the best strategic option to deliver this would be to augment the running experience; creating a layer of experience on top of the run that aimed to alter how the activity would be interacted with." Hence the game. The current competition started last Friday and runs (no pun intended) for 15 days. Players, who can compete individually or in teams, get points, badges, and prizes for speed, routes, and "various unlockables," Douglas writes, "that become apparent as the game unfolds." As of this writing, the game had 2,834 players and 323 teams.
What’s particularly cool about the competition is the GRID website , where Nike not only tallies scores but is also serving up visualizations of the race. Since it’s collecting data all the time--every time a competitor makes a call from one of the phone boxes, it logs who they are, where the box is, and what time it is--Nike is turning that information into visualizations (powered by San Francisco’s Stamen Design) that illustrate various aspects of the race. In one of those visualizations (embedded below), the GRID pits men against women, plotting the competitors' individual runs over time on a stylized map of London (in pink for women and blue for men), while tallying up their points on a scoreboard on the side. And, in the good-natured competitive spirit of the game, the video declares at the end: "Boys lead!" and urges their counterparts: "Get running girls!"
"GRID is part of a growing category of ideas that sits within, as Tom Coates of Yahoo! describes, the 'real world web,'" Douglas writes, "connected things that blur the physical and virtual spaces--things that thrive primarily because they excite us as humans, rather than being a vehicle for demonstrating technical capability."
A version of the game has also been played in Poland , but no word from Nike about whether it'll be coming to the States.
For more on Nike and innovation, see our story on Nike CEO Mark Parker  from the September issue of the magazine.