Brands' March Madness plan: mix digital and fun

NEW YORK: Brands are mixing social media with traditional outreach and a bit of fun to target the millions of sports fans and college alumni watching the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Tournament, which will run through April 8.

NEW YORK: Brands are mixing social media with traditional outreach and a bit of fun to target the millions of sports fans and college alumni watching the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Tournament, which will run through April 8.

General Motors' Buick brand sees a unique opportunity to speak to an engaged crowd through a topic it's already passionate about, says Nick Richards, Buick communications group manager.

The brand kicked off its tournament campaign at last week's Atlanta Auto Show, offering consumers who test drove the new Buick Encore tickets to “Bracket Town,” a four-day interactive fan event. Bracket Town is taking place in Atlanta this year because the tournament's Final Four will be played at the Georgia Dome. The auto brand also partnered for the third year with nonprofit Samaritan's Feet to donate a pair of shoes to Atlanta-area children for each car test-driven during the show.

To promote the Encore during the tournament, Buick is launching the “Encore Performances” initiative, which will highlight famous buzzer-beating moments in NCAA history. The campaign encourages fans to re-enact the shots, and then posts photos of them doing so on Facebook and Twitter. The consumers who make the shots will be invited to meet the players they impersonated. Buick expects about 10,000 consumers will attend Bracket Town.

The seven-round, 68-team NCAA Men's Basketball tournament tipped off Tuesday and will run through April 8, when it will culminate with the national championship game. The tournament is being televised on the CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV networks, and millions of Americans fill out brackets predicting the winners of each game.

Pizza Hut is not an official NCAA partner, but it sells more than 80 million slices during the tournament, says Doug Terfehr, the brand's PR director. Leveraging the tournament is a chance for the brand to interact with fans in a fun way.

Terfehr says his company has “become No. 1” in terms of the most liked pizza company on Facebook and the most followed pizza brand on Twitter in recent months. To recognize its customers, Pizza Hut will offer a free medium pie to anyone who signs up online for the Hut Lovers Club if all the top-seeded teams make it to the finals. Terfehr says that is one way to involve passionate college basketball fans, novice fans, and college alums.

The brand is not launching a traditional ad campaign for the initiative, he added, because it is focusing on social media channels and relationships with coupon and mom bloggers. Pizza Hut works with Zeno Group as AOR.

Pizza Hut also teamed up with Dude Perfect, a team that specializes in trick shots. Consumers can fill out a bracket to rate their best shots, and at the end of the tournament, Dude Perfect will post a comparison of its newest shot vs. the winner chosen by fans.  

Enterprise Rent-A-Car is an official sponsor of the NCAA Tournament for the eighth year. To engage fans in a “funny and entertaining” way, it is promoting the “Elite Eight Office Etiquette Tips” to help people get through March Madness during work hours, says Steve Bauer, consumer marketing SVP at Fleishman-Hillard. Fleishman has served as Enterprise's AOR since 2001.

The firm has reached out to broadcast, radio, print, and online media outlets. Enterprise also created animated videos that connect with the tips.

Enterprise prides itself as a top recruiter of college graduates across the country, so it has a “natural connection to March Madness,” said Bauer.

Regus, a corporation that provides flexible office space to business centers, is also focusing on the work-productivity element of the tournament. Grant Greenberg, head of PR at Regus, says that because many of the games are played during the day, employees check scores or watch parts of games online. However, since Regus centers have “business lounges” with TVs, staffers from all over a building can watch games there. Regus works with Edelman.

He said the lounges connect various businesses in a building and offer a networking opportunity for employees and a chance for them to collaborate. The company is inviting media, with a focus on the Midwest region, to some Regus buildings to watch how the shared spaces are used during March Madness.

To help employees stay productive, Regus developed a list of four tips for working during the tournament. The company, which is promoting the initiative on its blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages, is inviting people to join its Social Rewards Program, which enables them to accrue points for interacting with the brand on social media. Those who sign up for the program have the chance to win two tickets to the Final Four.

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