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
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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.