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Which Brands Earned a Spot in the Marketing Final Four?

Vikas Bysani

Over the past few weeks, dozens of college basketball teams across the country fought through “March Madness” to get to the Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) national championship tournament. Many brands have done the same.

The NCAA basketball tournament is one of the most highly anticipated sporting events of the year, and has become a huge marketing opportunity for brands, and especially the sponsors, to leverage. Here is a list of the brands that sponsored the event, paying millions of dollars for the right to not only advertise to the present generation of college kids, but also to fans and alumni invested in the games.

Out of the 16 brands that sponsored the NCAA, it was surprising to see that so few really made a significant effort to leverage the sporting event via social media beyond a few contests and updates about the scores. For example Infiniti’s contribution to the tournament on social media started and ended with this tweet on March 17th.

The two platforms that were primarily in play here were Facebook and Twitter, although most of the action took place on Twitter. A few brands like Capital One, Buffalo Wild Wings and LG US ran contests for people to win tickets to the Final Four or, in the case of BWW, a $50 gift voucher. Other brands like Northwestern Mutual and Buick focused their efforts on sharing score updates, but it was more about broadcasting content rather than getting their respective communities involved.

That said, there were some very innovative campaigns from brands that came from different sectors. Burger King, Allstate and Lowe’s all did interesting things which brands can learn from when it comes to getting reach and creating a buzz.

Burger King Wants You To Watch Like A King

On Twitter, the brand that is currently seeing the highest amount of traction is Burger King. The fast food chain is running a “Watch Like a King” contest, and the related #watchlikeaking hashtag has already been used over 17,000 times by followers. Burger King has also changed their Twitter handle’s description to the rules of the contest.

The promotion has multiple levels of goodies with an estimated value of more than US$100,000, the top prize being tickets to the semi-final and final of the tournament. All followers have to do is tweet out what they are doing to #watchlikeaking.

The contest was cross-promoted on Facebook and supported by an updated cover photo along with a few updates on the contest, including a video. However, it should be noted that entrants were only allowed to enter the contest through Twitter. It is interesting to see that Burger King chose to use Twitter primarily for the contest, probably due to the way that hashtags are part of the very fabric of the social network compared to Facebook, which also supports hashtags but hasn’t reached the same level of popularity.

The chart below shows how #watchlikeaking has been one of the most popular hashtags throughout the tournament for Burger King.

Allstate Leverages Vine To Bust Peoples’ Brackets

Allstate, on the other hand, has promoted the event more through their mascot “Mayhem” on Facebook, Twitter and Vine in a campaign called ‘’March Mayhem.” The series of videos posted to the three platforms follows Mayhem while he busts and burns your NCAA bracket.

Allstate created the hashtag #MarchMayhem which has been used close to 15,000 times by people on Twitter. To put that in to perspective, the chart below shows the top hashtags used by brands in the insurance sector in March.

The hashtag was used so many times because thousands of people retweeted and replied to Mayhem’s tweets like this one:


The bracket busting tweets from Mayhem have been so successful that they consistently saw an average engagement score of 1,000, which is the maximum score a tweet can get in the Unmetric platform. The chart below shows how frequently the handle was scoring slam dunks on its tweets in terms of engagement.

Lowe’s Drafts The Wisdom of the Crowd For NCAA Ads

In its recent advertising campaign, Lowe’s Home Improvement showed regular people doing home improvements only to see all their hard work and effort go south. It took the collective wisdom of Twitter to point out that seeing these micro-catastrophes was akin to their NCAA brackets going up in smoke. Here’s one tweet from the 23rd March that sums up how the original Lowe’s commercial was how he felt about his bracket.



Acting on this and many other tweets, Lowe’s created a few modified GIFs and started actively tweeting out to people who were tweeting how upset they were with their busted brackets – even though they hadn’t specifically mentioned Lowe’s in the tweet. Here’s the follow up reply to Kris’ original tweet on the 29th March.


The chart below shows how the number of replies spikes up on the 28th March as the brand starts pro-actively reaching out to everyone complaining about their brackets.

Brands need to be fleet footed in today’s marketing environment and Lowe’s creative team was able to take the feedback on the sentiment and incorporate it in to their existing ads.

UPS Chats With The Basketball Experts

In most of its past few campaigns, UPS has been all about owning the word logistics. From the catchy song to an entire website dedicated to their love of logistics, it shouldn’t be any surprise that UPS talked up the role of logistics when it came to the NCAA tournament.

As part of the campaign to promote its association with the tournament, UPS took to Twitter to interview two well known personalities from the basketball scene. First up on the 25th March was former player and current ESPN analyst, Jay Bilas and then former professional basketball player, Lisa Leslie, was interviewed on 4th April. To promote the event, UPS used the hashtag #deliveringwins which has been used in nearly 700 tweets so far.

The event was well promoted by UPS as they really ramped up the content on the 25th March and 4th April to make sure people were aware of the interviews.

Capitalizing on the reach of two well known personalities helped UPS create a greater reach and although the company is no stranger to making something like logistics really interesting, it’s still incredible to see UPS generating more buzz than some more consumer orientated brands.

Why are brands not doing more?

To sum up, we were surprised at how little the 16 official sponsors were doing in the social space when it came to promoting their association with the tournament. Whether there were association rights or image rights restrictions, we don’t know, but there are still plenty of options for brands to capitalize on the buzz.

Burger King is the stand out brand for us. A catchy hashtag which is associated with the tournament, it really got people involved both with the brand and the tournament. Allstate’s Mayhem campaign, while rather destructive in nature, capitalized on the frustration many of us feel when the results don’t go our way. The short Vine videos would have been quick and cheap to produce, tie in well with the brand persona, and have given Allstate massive visibility throughout this tournament.

Lowe’s also showed remarkable nimbleness to pick up on sentiment and incorporate it in to their existing campaign, this has gone down well with NCAA fans and has helped them build their brand. Even a brand that wasn’t sponsoring the NCAA tournament could have picked up on this and run a micro-campaign around the sentiment that was running high on Twitter – and no copyrights or trademarks would have been infringed!

Newcastle Brown Ale created the playbook when it comes to hijacking events without spending money or infringing on any copyright with their not-a-Superbowl ad campaign. The company knew it couldn’t afford to be a sponsor or an advertiser for the Superbowl, but it didn’t stop it creating teaser ads and creating a huge buzz as people talked about “the-greatest-Superbowl-ad-that-isn’t-actually-a-Superbowl-ad” and earned it more views than many other official ads.

With some creativity, all 16 brands could have tied their brand positioning in to the tournament through contests, user participation and other methods that don’t directly involve the players.


The date range for the analysis was March, 2014. The engagement score is calculated based on the number of Likes, Comments, Shares and Audience Reception Rate that each post receives. Click here to sign up for a free six day trial of Unmetric.