Be like Buffett: Grab attention with sports brackets

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Major sports events aren’t just about who wins or loses. They’re also culture-defining social occasions that draw in millions of viewers.

The 2017 NCAA March Madness Tournament was a prime example of a sporting event that becomes more than just a game. People were so gripped, even productivity suffered as workers followed the day games at their desks, or even on the big screens of conference rooms. At night, the tournament was on in millions of living rooms, and bars filled with fired-up fans. Even people who don’t normally watch college basketball, or any sports for that matter, were caught up in the drama and excitement.

People become personally invested in the NCAA tournament, filling out 70 million bracket challenges in the U.S. every year. Office pools are common, and serious money can be won playing the many online contests, which offer automated tracking of bracket scores to encourage repeat traffic.

The allure of brackets isn’t limited to March Madness either. Challenges are now underway for the NBA and NHL playoffs, and they’re also popular for other “social event” tournaments such as the NFL playoffs, the World Cup, and Major League Baseball’s playoffs. Stepping outside of the sports sphere for a moment, bracket challenges have even become a part of our food culture, as we’ve seen with the Chicken Tender Bracket!

For marketers, this rite of filling out brackets presents a ripe opportunity to become part of the head, heart, and wallet of consumers. You’re pulling in potential customers, providing them a memorable, meaningful and fun interaction with the event, which they will associate positively with your company. This amounts to a true gamified experience – competitive instincts create emotional investments for engagers in seeing how their bracket performs.

For example, the media outlets broadcasting the NCAA Tournament, CBS and Turner—as well as numerous other sports-related outlets such as ESPN, Fox Sports, and betting sites—held bracket challenges to increase their audience and boost their sponsorship/ad revenue. Even non-sports-related enterprises such as Capital One got in on the action.

But with so many companies seeking to tap into the marketing power of brackets, how can you stand out with your own bracket challenge?

The bigger the prize, the larger the audience

An obvious solution is to offer a prize that’s so large it demands attention. If you offer a billion dollar bracket prize, you will be noticed!

That’s exactly what Quicken Loans did in 2014, offering $1 billion to anyone who correctly filled in every line of their bracket correctly. The odds of a perfect bracket were 1 in 9.2 quintillion (that’s 18 zeroes), so Quicken stood to receive a ton of positive publicity without much risk of having to pay out the $1 billion.

Nonetheless, Quicken wisely didn’t take even that small of a chance. The mortgage company partnered with Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway company backed the contest with contest prize insurance that would pay the prize if someone did beat the long odds.

It’s that type of promotional risk management that makes big-payout contests possible. Any company can offer a high-dollar bracket without any risk of having to pay that amount.

High ROI without breaking the bank

So there’s no need to be scared away by high-prize values. The real question is whether there will be an acceptable ROI for the promotion insurance premium.

In making that decision, the public relations and marketing benefits of promotions like a bracket challenge shouldn’t be underestimated. When an event has a considerable cultural, social and emotional impact, involving your company in consumers’ personal experience can direct connect you to one of their most memorable events of the year.

And that’s an invaluable connection to make.

Dylan MacTavish,Business Development Manager, Insured Creativity.


I’m the Business Development Manager at Insured Creativity.

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