It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad March!

We are in the thick of it, folks. March Madness 2014 is here and has taken over. Brands and marketers are vying for consumers’ attention and dollars even more than before, because let’s be honest. The NCAA Championship is the most broadly appealing, engaging and exciting of all American sport championships. You have alumni, families, legacies, rivalries, soon-to-be NBA players, legendary coaches, nail-biting upsets and underdogs – not just for a night or a weekend, but for weeks! And I haven’t even gotten to the brackets, yet! Thanks to those beautiful little webby brackets, everyone can put some skin in the game. Whether it’s winning an office pool or bragging rights with your buddies or even championing your jersey-color code theory since you know zip about basketball, anyone can fill out a bracket and be engaged in the championship, and subsequently, with the brands that have successfully associated themselves with all the fun and excitement of March Madness. There are hundreds of promotions and campaigns associated around March Madness, here’s a few online programs I picked to give a closer look.

Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge with Yahoo! Sports

Billion Bracket Challenge

Easily one of the most talked about promotions this season, the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge took charge and paid off for Quicken Loans. A billion dollars for a perfect bracket? Who cares if the odds are 9.2 quitillion to 1, there’s still a chance, right? It makes anyone’s office pool feel a little piddly and like any good sweepstakes, there’s a “You gotta be in it, to win it!” mentality. Insured by Warren Buffet, this promotion promised to make this year’s game a little more interesting by raising the stakes and subsequently, raising awareness, mentions and leads for Quicken Loans, which is the second largest lender in America behind Wells Fargo, and Yahoo! Sports. Well, at least it did for the first three days of the tournament, until ultimately all submitted brackets were busted in round 1. $2 million will still be divided among the top 20 brackets and another $1 million will go to youth charities, so there will be some winners from this much-talked about campaign.

Given that there’s already talk of next year’s campaign, I hope that Yahoo! and Quicken Loans will analyze their user data carefully to enhance the experience the next time around. I found the process for engagement and enrollment to be clunky and disjointed, and that was before I could even begin to compile my bracket! With a billion dollars at stake, I had hoped for a better user experience, to say the least.

Reese’s Make the Crowd Go Wild and the Reese’s Baking Bracket Challenge

Reeses_Bracket

Reese’s has a long-standing affiliation with the NCAA and is the Official Candy of the NCAA. In addition to sponsoring the All-Star Game the Friday before the Final Four and its advertising throughout the games, this year Reese’s held a bracket promotion pitting its own Reese’s products against each other, asking users to vote through their favorite Reese’s products through each round. (Click here to check it out.) With prizes given away every hour and an ultimate prize of tickets to the 2015 Final Four, this promotion works because Reese’s goes with NCAA like peanut butter goes with chocolate.

Resees_BakingBracket

Building on an already good thing, Reese’s also has a promotion in partnership with Walmart, the Reese’s Baking Bracket Challenge (Click here to check it out.). Users vote for their favorite Reese’s recipes through each course of the bracket – the competitors are brand new recipes submitted by Walmart bloggers. The taste appeal alone is enough to get folks excited, plus it’s a great resource to appeal to shopper moms that want to step up their game for their game-watching parties. With the integration and involvement of the bloggers, this promotion hits a different note than many other bracket-based campaigns by targeting mom and doing it well. With bloggers comes established readership and authenticity, which can not only help drive traffic to the site, but also get more people via social media sharing, tweeting and pinning about it.

Dove Men+Care’s  NCAA March Madness Decisions Are Tough

Dove

The Dove Men+Care is working hard to build recognition, awareness and credibility as a go-to for men’s skincare. By becoming an official corporate partner of the NCAA, the brand has already taken great strides to get a the heart of their target through their love of the game. Their NCAA March Madness Decisions Are Tough campaign gets at the heart of the bracket: decisions, decisions, decisions.  (Click here to check it out.) Partnering with the Bleacher Report, the Dove site provides fun facts, quick quizzes, matchup decisions so that fans can see how their picks stack up against other fans and the Bleacher Report experts, and an opportunity to enter for a $50,000 dream deluxe home theater and chances to win 2015 Men’s basketball championship preliminary round tickets. Using the thematic of decisions, Dove Men+Care drives home that its products are an easy decision with its succinct and clear labeling and key product assortment. In addition to the site, their social media support is in full swing, with Twitter engagement using #TournamentDecisions and the brand’s Twitter handle actively engaging about specific games. This campaign seems like a natural fit and one that Dove Men+Care can build on in years to come.

The White House: The 16 Reasons to Get Covered

WhiteHouse

While not the typical type of March Madness promotion, “The 16 Reasons to Get Covered” aims to raise awareness among young adults to sign up for Obamacare before the March 31 deadline (Click here to check it out) marrying a bracket thematic and the President’s love of basketball. It’s a very basic launching site that will take people to Healthcare.gov to sign up for coverage, but embraces the March Madness thematic by posting the President’s bracket and asks people to “vote” by sharing or tweeting their favorite reason for getting healthcare coverage. Each reason also happens to be linked to a cute meme or animated gif that lends itself to the sharability factor. There’s also a video of Roy Williams, men’s basketball coach for my alma mater UNC, and Geno Auriemma, women’s basketball coach for UConn, encouraging enrollment. All in all, it feels a little haphazardly put together and doesn’t have the pizazz that it really needs to be effective, but it shows how a brand, even one like the government, can use an event such as the NCAA championship to draw a connection with a its target market even if it is in no way, shape or form directly affiliated with that event.

Budlight: Mad Things Happen

Budlight

Budlight knows its core audience and knows what they want – they want to watch tournament games, be in the know and figure out how to do all that without those pesky things called jobs getting in the way of one’s basketball time. Through its Mad Things Happen site, Budlight is offering users a number of options for achieving these goals. It provides a spreadsheet of scores that looks very businessy and official that you can have on your computer screen in case the boss walks by and wonders what you’re up to (plus, it contains live updates!) It offers a browser extension you can download so that the ad spaces in your web browser become score boards. There’s a MiniHoops game download to play and you could win a trip to the Budlight Hotel Final Four Weekend. And lastly, why not just scrap work altogether and fake virus on your computer. Yep, they have a tool for that. The online portion of their campaign is all in good fun and while things like this have circulated around before, they always have a bit a of a buzz factor. It’ll be interesting to see how they bring #UpForWhatever to life at the Dallas hotel Budlight is taking over for March Madness – stay tuned.

Bonobos Pro-AM Bracket Challenge

Bonobos

Menswear brand Bonobos is getting into March Madness this year, partnering with Thuzio, to bring its shoppers a different kind of bracket experience with its Pro-AM Bracket Challenge. (Click here to check it out.) Here’s the crux of it. Half of the bracket is made of your selections. The other half are selections made by your selected sports legend: Rollie Fingers, Baseball hall of famer; Takeru Kobayashi, competitive eating champion; Marcelo Balboa, former soccer start; Emanuel Yarbough, Sumo wrestler; Stephen Kreiger, Paper airplane former record holder. I know what you’re thinking – legends? Some of these may be a stretch but they make for some interesting choices. So between you and your celebrity’s bracket selections, you could have a winning bracket on your hands, with the ultimate prize being $1,500, a signed bracket from your sport legend and a $1,000 Bonobos store credit.  As an e-commerce-driven company that is not directly tied to or sponsoring NCAA, Bonobos offers a fresh take with this combined bracketology experience. Given that their target customer is male and not afraid of taking a new approach to an old standard (at least given Bonobos’s business model), this campaign seems like a fun fit for the company without compromising who it is or trying too hard to compete with bigger or more sports-oriented brands.

Can I get a hearing aid if I don’t need one?

My grandfather came over Sunday and while visiting, he was thrilled to show me a new toy of his. I was waiting for him to pull out a tool or show me a car accessory. What he revealed was something I didn’t know existed—a hearing aid in sync with his iPhone. He picked up his iPhone to show me how he could adjust the volume for each ear, turning them up and down with his phone … with no wires! And, the device not only allows him to raise the volume level of what’s around him (by moving levers on his phone), it also works as a Bluetooth. He can walk down the street and wirelessly listen to music, or talk on the phone.

The company introducing this new product called LiNX™, GN ReSound, and has partnered exclusively with Apple to create the world’s first made-for-iPhone hearing aid. With aging consumers, imagine the business possibilities.

And, talk about leveraging technology to personalize your experiences! Could this be the future for all of us? Imagine: walking through the grocery store with your aid in your ear, and it tells you where to find the items on your list and provides you with deals and offers throughout the store. Or, maybe your aid could remind you as you enter the check-out that you forgot to buy milk. So many possibilities.

From the Westside: How Starbucks does Disney

While there might be a Starbucks on every corner, there’s no chance that a Starbucks at Disneyland could look like all the rest. Starbucks recently opened a unique location in the Downtown Disney District at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. The store itself is built around an old tree with reclaimed wood from old railroad box cars and features a massive outdoor wall with 1,000 native California plants formed in the shape of a coffee cup.

Inside, a 10-foot video installation tells the Starbucks coffee story, a first for the brand. Another unique feature is an interactive touchscreen for customers to draw and write on. The technology and content were developed especially for the store.

This is the first of five corporate-owned Starbucks locations planned for Disney properties in the U.S. The store at Downtown Disney will pull tourists entering and leaving the park as well as locals looking for a fun experience. Beyond trying to create brand symmetry, Starbucks is clearly trying to integrate their brand with all ages and every occasion in customers’ lives — even the family vacation!

 

Photo Credits: Matthew Glac

Walmart To Go

Is it a convenience store? Is it a QSR? Is it a Walmart Store…?

Actually it’s all of the above. Walmart just opened it’s first Walmart To Go and I must say I was quite impressed. This is not like any Walmart you have ever seen – it’s a hybrid and then some.

What will you find inside? Fresh-cut flower bouquets from a local florist, a greek yogurt smoothie bar, fresh hot and cold foods, healthy snacks and take-home items, charcoal, baby wipes and more. You can pretty much get everything you need including your favorite candy treats.

I think Walmart definitely has a winner on their hands… talk about one stop shopping.

Games, Guardians, and Grumpy Cat @ Toy Fair 2014!

The 112th annual American International Toy Fair came together in New York Feb. 15th – 20th, with more than 1,000 exhibiting manufacturers, distributors, importers and sales agents from around the globe to showcasing their toy and entertainment products. Among the big trends happening in the coming year are hot “mature”  TV shows, such as Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead, supplanting movies as the buzz-worthy toy licenses.

Another ongoing trend is “Boys Toys for Girls”, following the publicity garnered by GoldieBlox last year, many manufacturers are taking traditional boys’ toys such as building blocks and combat weapons and putting a female spin on them to allow your daughters’ entry in the neighborhood Hunger Games reenactments. And we’re always happy to see Grumpy Cat, even if she doesn’t seem particularly thrilled to see us. Check out all this and much more in our recap video tour of Toy Fair 2014!

Eat the Tweet

While at SXSW over the weekend, our curiosity and stomachs pulled us over to the Oreo Trending Lounge where we tried out the Oreo 3D printing machines. We decided it was definitely the tastiest 3D printing experiment we’ve tried so far.

For those that missed out, here’s the gist: Oreo brought two 3D Oreo printing machines to launch at SXSW. The machines allowed festival-goers to create custom Oreos based on what was trending on twitter. Talk about hyper-personalization! The machine could make up to 4,000 different Oreo combinations.

While we did see that the machine isn’t yet perfect (many cookies were lost in delivery as the machine accidentally dropped them after making them) Oreo definitely provided consumers with a positive, relative and memorable brand experience and gave us a look at what we could see more of in the future with food and 3D printing.

One of the most interesting things about all of this is that Oreo is showing us that no matter how old your brand is, you can create true relevancy with today’s consumers by creating experiences that are timely and personalized. This is a brand that was born in 1912! And, this is one of many times within the past year or so that they’ve been a positive topic throughout social media. Well done, Oreo.

Why Apple Doesn’t Need ‘The Onion’

Yesterday, Apple released its latest update to iOS 7 and it is being covered extensively by mainstream and tech news outlets, the social graph and parts unknown.  This is the case whenever Apple does anything good, bad or indifferent.  So as I was reading through the details of the new release I started to think what other brands might have to do to draw the kind of coverage where individuals far and wide would add the announcement to their own feeds.

What are the ingredients for brand passionate virality?  Yes, I just made up that term, one that means content that is shared as a result of a consumer’s interest in or passion for a brand. I think many of them, short of total product reinvention, would have to go the way of The Onion.  That means create the appearance of true headlines by invoking comedic value even if the headline isn’t true.  The comedic piece has a proved track record for viral success and, when tied to a brand, can create that same buzz that a robust real time marketing program can create.

So, pro bono, I offer up these potential Onion-esque headlines sure to spread like wildfire:

  • Second Most Interesting Man In The World Does Not Prefer Dos Equis
  • Budweiser Abdicates Throne, No Longer King of Beers
  • Running Out of The Proud, Marines Now to Recruit The “Pretty Confident”
  • DeBeers Reads Divorce Rate Stats,  Now Says a Diamond is Forever for 50% Of Us
  • Mikey’s Confession “I Never Liked Life Cereal”!
  • Red Bull Partners With Hooters, Now Gives you Double D Wings
  • Wheaties Aims To Gain Market Share, Claims to Be “Lunch of Runner Ups”
  • Chicago Man Claims To Have Found Substitute for Porsche

All kidding aside, my point is that in order to generate the kind of noise Apple generates most brands have to conjure up ideas and dedicate time, money and effort to get there.  Apple simply releases a software update.  What is the value of brand passionate virality?  Apple does next to zero social media, only recently getting on Tumblr.  Calculate your social media efforts and costs alone and you may have your answer.

Getty Images Gives In To The Inevitable

Joining the likes of the music industry leaders and the tv studios showrunners who have ceased their fight against the sharing of their content on such sites as YouTube and Facebook, Getty images has announced that they are no longer going to legally challenge non-commercial use of their images on social media, but instead will be facilitating that very sharing by including a new “embed” mechanism in their image catalog:

It’s a real risk for the company, since it’s easy to screenshot the new versions if you want to snag an unlicensed version. But according to Craig Peters, a business development exec at Getty Images, that ship sailed long ago. “Look, if you want to get a Getty image today, you can find it without a watermark very simply,” he says. “The way you do that is you go to one of our customer sites and you right-click. Or you go to Google Image search or Bing Image Search and you get it there. And that’s what’s happening… Our content was everywhere already.”

Looking at the pictures on Twitter, it’s hard to disagree. Wildly popular accounts like @historyinpics can amass hundreds of thousands of followers with nothing but uncredited, unlicensed images, and since there’s no direct revenue, there’s little point in asking them to pay. At that scale, anything more expensive than free is a prohibitive cost. The new embeds strike directly at that kind of social sharing, with native code for sharing in Twitter and Tumblr alongside the traditional WordPress-friendly embed code. Peters’ bet is that if web publishers have a legal, free path to use the images, they’ll take it, opening up a new revenue stream for Getty and photographers.

This is great news for bloggers and businesses alike, but the real winners here will be all the photographers and content generators whose work has been used without attribution for so many years. The real question here is, “is this coming too late?” As we’ve seen in the online piracy debates, once your user base has become set in their ways of grabbing images without permission, how easy do you have to make it for them to change their behavior? And will the future possibility of embedded ads or dynamically changed content be a barrier for adoption? Only time will tell, but it’s good to see a company that controls so much of this space recognize the shifting landscape and proactively change their very business model to prepare for the future.

– via The Verge