From the generation that brought you “YOLO” and “Live, Love, Dance” tattoos, the “colour run” has been highlighted — literally — as the next equally meaningless fad selling happiness, individuality and the promise of living in the moment.
The colour run is a 5-kilometre run where people pay to have colored cornstarch hurled at their faces and bodies. The event is a bastardization of Holi, a Hindu religious celebration.
Dyed powder was once used to colour individuals in celebration of divine love and the changing of seasons. Now, dyed cornstarch is placed in compressed tanks similar to fire extinguishers to be shot at hyped-up 20-somethings paying nearly $50 for the privilege. America!
The colour run market in North America seems to be cornered by three major players: The Color Run, Color Me Rad and Run or Dye. A quick search reveals that a number of other, similar companies are hosting the exact same “unique” experience. The idea that paying to have tinted cornstarch shot at you will help you find happiness has been described as “the best legal scam since the pet rock,” a fad created by an advertising executive who used it to amass a $5-million fortune.
Though the run certainly has some benefits for participants, like memories forever preserved in Facebook photos of colour-drenched friends, and the obvious physical and mental benefits of general exercise, these hardly measure up to what entrants are being sold.
Color Me Rad offers a “guarantee that your outlook will be brighter” after participating in its 5-kilometre cornstarch explosion, and that’s only one of many such outlandish promises.
— Michael Berger (@GodsWarrior_) October 5, 2013
— Brooklyn Hamilton (@brookhamiltonn) October 5, 2013
All major colour run companies note that a portion of their profit is given to local or national charities, though the amount varies based on the charitable organization and the size of the event.
Alaskan reporter Laurel Andrews crunched the numbers for the Anchorage Color Run where the charity of choice, The Boys’ and Girls’ Club, was given a maximum of 3.33 per cent of the $300,000 profit — and only after they supplied upwards of 250 volunteers.
Not all partner organizations are even registered charities. The recent Kitchener, Ont. Color Me Rad event was partnered with Triton Sports, a sport event management company. Triton Sports’ only involvement was to recruit volunteers from local Kitchener sports teams. Color Me Rad donated a set amount per volunteer to that volunteer’s sport team.
Triton Sports reported that roughly 7,000 people were registered for the Kitchener run. At $45 per person, the registration fees brought in $315,000. Of course, overhead costs are a factor. Some simple and very liberal math based on numbers provided by the City of Kitchener outline the cost of a colour run:
- After-party space: free
- Policing and security: $5,000
- Road closures: $2,000
- The unknown (travel, set up, staffing, clean up): an estimated $20,000
- Total costs: $27,000
- Net profit: 288,000
If these unofficial figures are anywhere near accurate, Color Me Rad’s profit far outweighs the charitable donation to Kitchener youth sports teams of just $8,000. [Color Me Rad disputes this estimate. See note at bottom.]
This leads to a question of whether colour runs are donating, or if they’re milking a charitable reputation to receive cheap, contracted labour for an incredible profit.
If running through a spectrum of dust is your thing, then yes, it’s probably a fun event. But don’t expect to find inner peace in a colour-induced, haze, and definitely don’t consider signing up an act of charity. Your entrance fee definitely helps make the corporation running the show richer, might help a local organization, and likely won’t help you stay happy beyond whatever joy you reap from ‘likes’ on your rainbow of new profile pictures.
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UPDATE: We reached out to Color Me Rad, the company that organized the Kitchener event, before publication of this piece but did not receive a response. The company did reach out to us afterward to provide extra context about the cost of putting on a colour run event, as well as to note that Color Me Rad has donated $2.1 million to charity.
A message sent to the Albatross is included below:
The headline is inflammatory. Calling colour runs a faux-charity scam is incorrect. We do not present ourselves as a charity run, and we do give a portion of the proceeds to charity. We are donating to the charity REGARDLESS of whether we make a profit on each race or not, i.e. we are not giving a % of profit–we are donating based on our agreement with the charity. There have been races where we lose money but our charity still receives $10-15K. Also, the estimate on cost was extremely low. In spite of it being an opinion piece, as you say, it seems that there was no fact-checking or investigation done in order to determine the true cost of these events. We do not provide details of our costs (just as any business would not), but here are just a few things you didn’t factor in:
-t-shirts for each participant
-sunglasses for each participant
-other swag and food/bev provided to each participant
- insurance for each participant
- clean up costs
- marketing costs
- equipment rental (this one is huge)
- travel expenses for staff (air travel, lodging, meals, etc.)
- labor costs for on-site staff (not even taking into account marketing staff and other staff)
- transport costs for equipment and swag/merch
- customer service
- website development and maintenance
- credit card processing fees
- customs and other duties to transport goods into Canada
- accounting, legal and other administrative costs
- any expenses incurred in scouting and securing venues in each location
- porta potty rentals
- actual purchase and replacement of race equipment
[image via Scooter Lowrimore/Flickr]