Newsjacking March Madness: Branding With Brackets

newsjacking march madness

So, I’ve never been a huge college basketball fan (don’t hate!), but ever since I was little and my dad showed me a March Madness bracket, I thought they were super fun. I don’t know why, but I can be nerdy like that. I usually filled one out, but it was never, ever a bracket based on anything but randomness, like where my friends went, what locations I would want to go to, or which mascots I like. Obviously, very informed decisions. Because of this, I’m excited to see how many brands are newsjacking March Madness by creating branded brackets, pinning things against each other that their community will care about.

It’s a great way for fans who may not be “mad” about basketball to be involved with something while everyone else has basketball on the brain. Beyond that, basketball fans have brackets on the brain right now, and may want to fill out a few more.

So What is Newsjacking?

The folks at HubSpot (my marketing muses) define newsjacking as “the practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing success.” David Meerman Scott wrote a book about it, which is now in my Amazon Kindle Wish List. HubSpot write about it a lot. I think I even newsjacked the Spice Girls reuniting at the Olympics. Sure, I that post had been in my drafts folder for a while, but my excitement over their reunion was the kick in the tush I needed to finish it (and the reason I was listening to their music so much more).

To put it really, really simply, it’s creating content themed around something in the news, or something people are thinking about now more than usual. People have differing opinions over whether newsjacking is right or wrong, but I think it’s great when it’s done tastefully (i.e. not having a Hurricane Sandy Sale)

Recent Examples of Newsjacking

Newsjacking is not a new practice by any means, but has been gaining a lot of momentum, and I think the most buzzed about example which sort of put real-time marketing in the spotlight recently was Oreo’s Super Bowl blackout tweet. I’m not about to go ranking real-time marketing and newsjacking, but these are a few examples I personally enjoyed:

  • JetBlue’s “Election Protection” campaign, where they offered to fly people to Canada if their preferred candidate didn’t win the 2012 election, because it’s also a great way for the rest of us to stop hearing “I should have moved to Canada!” for the next four years.
  • PBS launching a campaign after Mitt Romney’s Big Bird comment during one of the Presidential Debates, because they actually invested in sponsored tweets and hashtags, plus Big Bird is the only giant bird (giant animal of any kind, really) that doesn’t completely terrify me.

Brands Newsjacking March Madness

So now there’s another huge current event, and another slew of brands using it as inspiration for their own content and promotions. I think it’s even better than normal newsjacks, because if you have a way of finding out what people are choosing for their bracket, like having them vote through a poll on your website, you can learn valuable information about your audience. This will help you understand your fans better for future marketing stuff. Easy-peasy insight. Some of my favorite examples of non-basketball brackets are:

  • Divergent March Madness: If you haven’t heard of the Divergent trilogy, you’re missing out. The third book is on its way and the movie is currently in the casting stages. But anyway, the franchise is using polls on their Facebook page to pit characters from different factions (something from the book) against each other as if they were in the same faction. It should be more than just a favorite character contest since you’re supposed to think about which character would actually win in an elimination (you’ll understand this more if you’ve read the books).
  • Swagbucks Shopping Mania: Swagbucks, an online rewards program (which is absolutely awesome, by the way, here’s my referral link if you want to check it out) just finished a campaign where they chose which Swagbucks store would get double reward points by having the community vote through a bracket. This one’s great because the community gets something out of it – double rewards. Even if you don’t choose to shop at the winning store during the promotion, they gave away reward points to promote the contest.
  • Search Marketing Madness: PPC Hero, a search engine marketing blog I read for my job, is having its readers vote on different PPC-related categories, like the best industry blog, conference, and PPC software.
  • This Is Madness: StarWars.com has an official bracket. I don’t really think I need to say anything more. The Light Side and the Dark Side make up the two different sides of the bracket, and by the end, we will know the franchise’s most popular character.
  • Music March Madness: For the third year, Gold’s Gym is holding a tournament to determine its fans’ favorite workout song. This year, they even have Spotify integration so that voters can listen to the songs their voting on in a playlist (music content marketing for the win!). What’s more, each song is matched with a charity, and Gold’s Gym will donate $5,000 to the charity associated with the winning song.

Update: I found a few more brackets I thought I would share with you all (kudos to my friends in several LinkedIn groups for pointing me in the direction of some of these brackets!)

  • NPR Bracket: The radio station 89.3 KPCC is looking to find out the best public radio show by putting 32 NPR shows head-to-head. Voting is done on their website.
  • Seinfeld March Madness: I’m in love with this bracket and am super invested in who the winner turns out to be. So, who will be deemed the best recurring character on Seinfeld? Each region belongs to one of the four main characters, and contains the recurring characters they are closest to. The Murph Blog also has a great analysis of the characters. Voting is done in the comments of the blog posts.
  • TV Couples Challenge: So, we already know I love TV. We know I get really attached to the characters. But the couples? My “ships?” That’s a whole other story. So I obviously love Zimbio’s TV couples bracket, even though it’s understandably limited to current shows when Ross and Rachel were the greatest couple ever.
  • Southern Food Bracket: Garden & Gun Magazine is holding a “Battle of the Brands” to determine everyone’s favorite southern foods.

I’m sure that there are a ton of other brands using brackets this month, these are just a few that I happened to notice, whether through reading about them or participating in them myself!

So, tell me, what brackets have you filled out?

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Brittany is a recent graduate of the University of Delaware, residing in Newark, DE. She enjoys blogging about all things social media and tweets at @bberg1010

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