Making The Most Of The Madness

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At last, a sure sign of spring.
It’s the time of year when men’s college basketball takes center stage… as an impossible number of teams are whittled down to two in a series of must-win games. This year the NCAA tournament begins March 19 and culminates on April 6 in Detroit. This is the kind of sports where every game is a must win… experience counts and upsets come out of nowhere. Some consider it the last form of pure basketball you’ll find today… no endorsements, no money, just the game.. Not always do the favorites win it all, and for March Madness fanatics these few, intense days of endless games are among the most anticipated of the last gasps of the month.
Personally, I love the hope of a few non NBA bound, living the moment players having the games of their lives and upsetting a bunch of cock-sure all American’s who’ve had nothing but easy athletic success and the adulation that comes with it. It’s the ultimate chance to root for the underdog, and unique in that this tournament gives that underdog as much of a chance as any school to be in.
Just how far dedication to the tourney goes is aptly demonstrated by the ingenious ways to watch… developed no doubt because the play begins in earnest at 12:00 PM a Thursday… a work day for even the most rabid college sports fans. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective) echnology brings us free online streaming of every game at What’s truly ingenious about this way of indulging in your favorite pastime is that you can quickly cover your misuse of internet bandwith by clicking on the “Boss Button” and a fake spreadsheet will pop up just as he (or she) enters your office. Last year, the “Boss Button” recorded over 2.5 million clicks. 
This year there’s an application for your iPhone, at $4.95, that allows you to watch the games, all 63 of them, anywhere you have a Wi-Fi connection. Dedicated fans are beyond thrilled.
If only all this creativity and ingenuity could be harnessed for good… what a world it would be!
Some well known names are using the tournament to promotional advantage. This year KFC (once Kentucky Fried Chicken) is again sponsoring the Tournament Pick’ Em game on the Yahoo Sports website that offers a grand prize of $1,000,000. Of course you have to make all 63 picks correctly to win… no easy task to be sure. Myspace is teaming with Coke’s Vitaminwater for a contest with a prize of $10,000 for making the most accurate picks from the brackets. and “official” NCAA tournament pizza Papa Johns, is offering any new FaceBook friends who join between March 16th to March 24, 2009 a chance to win two tickets to the final game.
Coke Zero is taking a different tack… presenting college basketball fans with a chance for 30 seconds of fame — by logging on and uploading their most fanatical photos or videos relating to a favorite college team — a fantastic display of school spirit and fan madness. Judges from Coke Zero will look for passion, unpredictability, intensity and creativity in choosing a winner for a “Taste the Madness” spot scheduled to appear just before the tip-off of the men’s championship game.
Even Sirius XM Satelite Radio is getting into the mix, offering a March Melee where players can make bracket picks (or re-picks) and have a chance at winning a NYC Adventure. It costs nothing to play, it’s cool to have an option that let’s you recover from first round disasters.
These companies have come to recognize a simple fact — people love to win things. 
Now if these contests are a little out of your league… don’t give up on the idea of this type of promotion altogether. There are ways for small businesses to use these approaches that are both effective and affordable. Begin by looking for a natural tie to your business… the NCAA tournament is ideal for any sports related business, a small, pub style restaurant or anyone who offers products (like pizza, fast food and drinks) that are typically part of cheering on your favorite team. Even if you supply printouts of the brackets, or link to them on your website, you’ll be doing something to engage customers, employees and others.
If all else fails, consider a promotional offer that ties into the college tournament. Our offer is simple, but is a great way to let our customers know we’re fans… we get the madness too. And if our favorite team manages to make it into the Elite Eight or Final Four… well so much the better. 
If you do go the contest route, think long and hard about the prizes you’ll offer. Million dollar contests are fine for big budget marketing, but in the real world you’re trying to promote your business with fewer dollars. If a suitable money prize isn’t an option, consider other valuable options. Gift cards can be nice choices. Another thing to think about with big money prizes — odds of winning are remote, and everyone knows this. By having prizes that appear more attainable, but yet still valuable, or offering multiple prizes instead of one giant one — you create a contest that goes a long way toward generating interest and getting people to enter.
Another thing about multiple winners… it builds an army of loyal followers instead of just one. An investment in quality promotional products as contest prizes can be a great way to build customer loyalty and get your business noticed not just once, but many, many times. 
So look for your chances to tie college basketball — men’s or women’s — to your promotional efforts. If you’re still not sure, consider the survey conducted before the start of the NCAA tournament this year. At least 45% of Americans are planning on entering at least one pool, with more women (50%) than men (42%) taking part. 
The interest is there… your challenge is to find out how to use it to your best business advantage.

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