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TODD SMITH'S SPIN CYCLE: March (Marketing) Madness is upon us

Todd Smith

Todd Smith

Basketballs aren’t the only thing flying across our airwaves this March.

Yes, it March Madness, but it’s also marketing madness — when brands take to the court of public opinion to grab the world’s attention and gain awareness for their brands. It’s not the Olympics or the Super Bowl, mind you, but it’s still one of the biggest brand bonanzas of the year.

Never mind that many folks still won’t be able name a single player in the NCAA Basketball Championship tournament that stretches for nearly three weeks on TBS, CBS, TNT and TruTV. Who gives a hoop?

Bracket frenzy is here. March Madness is a marketing mix that advertisers crave but can rarely find. It has wide appeal to a very young and very desirable audience. It’s live sports — one of the few things that’s TiVo proof. And March Madness is a social media gabfest.

Perhaps that’s why the tournament generated more than $1.15 billion in ad revenue last year and is expected to easily top that figure this year, according to the media research firm Kantar Media. “March Madness is the right time, right place and continues to grow with no signs of peaking,” says Rob Prazmark, CEO of 21 Sports & Entertainment Marketing Group.

That’s why March Madness marketers are:

Debuting new ads. Burger King’s new two-for-$5 TV spot stars five-time NBA All-Star Chris Webber, Papa John’s has new spots featuring Jim Nantz of CBS Sports. Audi has new ads starring comedian Ricky Gervais. And Pizza Hut debuts spots to promote its WingStreet wings featuring ESPN anchor and radio personality Scott Van Pelt.

Devising new apps. AT&T is co-sponsor of the NCAA March Madness Live app, which provides access to more than 150 hours of live streaming on Windows and Android versions of the app. AT&T also happens to be the hometown sponsor of Dallas’ AT&T Stadium.

Rebranding hotels. Bud Light has set up temporarily re-branded “Bud Light Hotels” in Super Bowl cities for years. Now, the brew will do it with March Madness, by setting up a Bud Light Hotel in downtown Dallas. It will have live concerts and celebrity players, and it even will have Bud Light-branded signage, pillowcases, soaps and key cards.

Giving away eats. Hooters is giving away free fried pickles to folks who download coupons from its Hooters.com/Hooky site. It offers 10 free wings to folks who buy 10 — and have the coupon.

Hosting concerts. AT&T, Coke Zero and Capital One will host a three-day concert fest in Dallas one day each. Headliner for the Capital One JamFest: Bruce Springsteen.

How does March Madness stack up in sports popularity? According to a USA TODAY/Gallup poll, it ranked 5th behind the Olympics, pro football, college football and pro baseball.


Most Valuable Brands

Brand Finance has rolled out its annual rankings called The Billion Dollar Brands Club. The most valuable brands are all the usual big name suspects such as Apple, Google and Microsoft.

While Mississippi didn’t boast any of the top brands, many of its neighbors did.



The most valuable brand in Tennessee is Memphis-based FedEx.

FedEx Corp., No. 36, with an estimated brand value of $13.47 billion.

Dollar General Corp., No. 148, $3.7 billion

Autozone, No. 149, $3.66 billion



Regions, No. 436, $1.3 billion



Walmart, No. 8, $44.77 billion

Sam’s Club, 34, $13.66 billion

Dillard’s, No. 250, $2.36 billion


The Billion Dollar Brands Club Top 10:

1. Apple, $104.7 billion

2. Google, $68.3 billion

3. Microsoft, $62.78 billion

4. Verizon, $53.47 billion

5. GE, $52.53 billion

6. AT&T, $45.41 billion

7. Amazon, $45.14 billion

8. Walmart, $44.77 billion

9. IBM, $41.51 billion

10. Coca-Cola, 33.72 billion


Crisis communications in our midst

In the world of reputation management and reputation repair, no two crises are ever the same, and new issues emerge regularly. Whether it’s controversial phrasing in advertising or reputation-damaging news, crises come in all forms, and public relations professionals are often tasked with damage control.

Some organizations have successfully handled crises, while others suffer from a major crisis defeat. No brand or organization is immune from a crisis. We can all learn from some of the recent crisis events, and how its shaping opinion worldwide. By focusing on some of these successes — and failures — you can prepare your company, organization or brand for when disaster strikes.

From Diet Coke’s questionable tagline, Under Armour’s Olympic-sized crisis management plan, Walmart’s bad meat situation and the Reddit post targeting major restaurant chains there are many events grabbing headlines, both positive and negative.


Diet Coke denies new ads include drug references (PR Daily)

In a new Diet Coke campaign, Coca-Cola is using the tagline “You’re on Diet Coke,” causing many to question if the brand is making a reference to cocaine. Despite the brand’s denial that the tagline is a reference to the drug, many have taken to social media to post photos of the brand’s advertising — and to point out that the ads appear to read “You’re on Coke.” Coca-Cola issued a statement which denies that the tagline is a drug-related innuendo and explains the brand’s stance on drugs.

The statement explains “this advertising is one part of the new campaign for Diet Coke, which is called ‘You’re On.’ It celebrates ambitious young achievers from all walks of life and reminds them that Diet Coke is there to support them in the moments when they are at their best … Diet Coke in no way endorses or supports the use of any illegal substance.”


Under Armour’s Olympic experience is textbook case for how to handle crisis (AdAge)

Under Armour served as the apparel sponsor for the U.S. speedskating team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In collaboration with Lockheed Martin, the brand “created what it trumpeted as the fastest, most aerodynamic speedskating ‘skin’ ever.” However, when the Mach 39 suits were worn by the speedskating team during loses at the Olympics, the skaters and critics laid the blame on UA and the suits. Despite the losses, the brand “unequivocally believed the Mach 39 gave Team USA the best chance to win.”

Because of their belief in their product, UA executives rolled out a crisis communication plan that included TV and print interviews with UA executives about the suits, and gave reporters access to the execs for comments. The brand arranged social media posts from “other UA endorsers” to “defend their sponsors’ technology on social media without directly mentioning the speedskating controversy.” The brand also publically announced the renewal of its sponsorship with the U.S. speedskating team through 2022.


Walmart deflects blame for LSD-laced beef that sickened family (PR Daily)

Walmart recently found itself in hot water when a Florida store sold steaks laced with LSD. The Walmart purchase caused a family of four, which included a pregnant woman, to become ill from eating the steaks. The family suffered hallucinations and shortness of breath, which were severe enough to require emergency assistance and hospitalization. While investigators found that this was an isolated incident, the case is being investigated on federal and state levels to solve how the meat became laced with the drug.

According to the article, “[Walmart] spokeswoman Dianna Gee intimated to Reuters that a supplier must be to blame. Meat sold at Walmart arrives pre-packaged, she said, so it wasn’t clear when the contamination occurred.” Although there are few comments on the store’s Facebook page about the incident, many of the existing posts blame Walmart for the contamination.


Fast Food gets more bad PR because Reddit and Rogue employees (PRNewser)

A recent Reddit post caused a “crisis communications sensory overload” for many major restaurant chains. In the post, a Reddit user posted the question: “Fast food workers of Reddit, what should we NOT order at your restaurant? Why not?” The post received thousands of responses from current and former employees of popular restaurants sharing details about everything from frozen ingredients, poor employee training and unhygienic practices. The article highlights employee posts about Panera Bread, Subway, McDonalds and other major chains, and many do serious reputation damage.

An example of the over-share posts is an employee account of the food preparation at Panera Bread. According to the post, “Mac & cheese is nasty. Everything else is decent, I’d say you’re being charged too much for the salads for the quality. Soups are premade and frozen. Paninis and sandwiches and bread are good though. Whatever you do, don’t order the steak & blue cheese salad or the lobster sandwich.”


#Happy 8th birthday, Twitter

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been eight years since this revolutionary social media tool was born. But for it’s birthday, Twitter was the one handing out presents. The social network released a tool that let users look back on their very first tweets, giving us a glimpse back into “Twistory.”

Obama’s first tweet from 2007 focused on the war in Iraq. The Washington Post referenced the “Twitterati,” and for The New York Times, its first tweet showed typical style.

Stephen Colbert greeted twitter in a friendly manner, asking if the network has lost some weight recently. And although Beyonce was a Twitter late-comer, sending her first in 2012, she foreshadowed her 2013 single with her sign off: “XO.”

But probably the best “First Tweet Ever” is the actual first tweet ever. On March 21, 2006, co-founder Jack Dorsey sent out the original tweet: “just setting up my twttr” (Via Twitter / @Jack).


Mic Malaise| Malaysia has missed the boat, er plane

Talk about crisis communications. Malaysia wouldn’t know that if it hit them in the radar screen! Malaysia’s missing-plane crisis has exposed the shortcomings of a ruling regime already wrestling with a rapidly shrinking support base, fierce racial divisions and international criticism of its tough handling of political opponents. The same government has ruled since Malaysia’s birth in 1957, and political observers said its much-criticized response to the jet drama is symptomatic of years of institutional atrophy under an ethnic Malay elite known for cronyism. Analysts said rancor over the still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and its 239 passengers, two-thirds of whom were Chinese, could also complicate plans to draw closer to China — Malaysia’s biggest trading partner and a growing source of tourist revenue. From the beginning, Malaysia has mishandled the simmering crisis, and has not been forthcoming with news and availability in a timely manner. Call it the Malaysia Malaise!


» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.



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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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