SBJ/May 5-11, 2014/Opinion

Pair takes social media fans on 1,700-mile Final Four road trip

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It started as a text message joke.

“Let’s drive the Sonic to Dallas,” one UConn IMG account representative texted the other.

It was a lark, the kind of comment shot out and quickly forgotten.

But upon further inspection, why not? The Chevy “Road Warriors” had been a hit with fans and the school’s official vehicle partner at appearances throughout Connecticut, and the state’s university, the East’s No. 7 seed, had just beaten Iowa State to rumble into the Elite Eight of the NCAA men’s tournament. Coach Kevin Ollie’s surprising, gritty Huskies were turning into a team of March Madness destiny. Was there really any other destination on the map but Dallas, site of the Final Four?

Erik Antico (above left) and Brett Greenfield’s journey to the Final Four in the UConn-branded Chevy Sonic included a stop in Washington, D.C. Tourists, including actor Jeff Goldblum (below), posed for photos at the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The duo departed after U.S. Park Service rangers asked for their “promotional services” permit. “I explained … ‘Jonathan the Husky can’t talk,’” Antico said. “Brett was using sign language with the park rangers. It was pure comedy.”
Photos by: IMG COLLEGE

IMG account reps Erik Antico and Brett Greenfield sensed the Chevy Sonic was an undeveloped asset. They took the idea of a literal “Road to the Final Four” to UConn IMG Sports Marketing general manager Tom Murphy, cooking up a plan with a heavy social media presence. Brett, dressed as UConn mascot Jonathan the Husky, would hand out UConn gear and pose at landmarks on the way to Texas as social media followers tracked the journey for the national championship.

Murphy was all in, and hours later, so was Chevy. And, so, for about $2,000 in gas, food and lodging, the account duo tore a 1,700-mile path for AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas: 43 hours in the car, punctuated by pit stops at UConn rivals Villanova and St. Joseph’s, and national landmarks, drawing the ire of city and federal law enforcement along with countless Kentucky and Villanova fans; rolling through multiple tornado warnings; making it to
Texas to watch UConn’s men win the national title, and then cruising 10 more hours to see the women follow suit in Nashville. Along the way, the world’s most cost-effective activation team created 1.6 million media impressions for UConn and Chevy.

“These two guys really did it all as ambassadors for the UConn brand,” Murphy said. “They made a split-second decision to take the road trip of a lifetime, and it paid off for them and our client, Chevy.”

“UConn has always had a knack for innovative activation programs involving their loyal legions of supporters,” said Joe Favorito, a communications and marketing consultant who
teaches sports management at the graduate school of business at Columbia University. “This was a new, easy and fun digital promotion created on the fly with very little lead time and very limited hard costs.”

Indeed, the Road Warriors posted 13 official photos, averaging 1,300 likes per photo and more than 17,000 total likes.

“Overall owed and earned content performed very well, garnering a total of 1.65 million impressions,” said Katelyn Clinton, account executive, consumer engagement for FleishmanHillard, which supports Chevrolet. “These results certainly make the case for another Road Trip in the future.”

Andrew Giangola (andrew.giangola@img.com) is vice president of strategic communications for IMG College.

Packing several hundred Chevy T-shirts and hats, along with the Jonathan costume, Antico and Greenfield left UConn at 5:15 a.m. on Thursday, April 3. Rolling up to the George Washington Bridge for Jonathan’s first photo op, they found an open gate onto a pier and drove the car through. The perfect shot, they thought. New York’s Finest didn’t share that sentiment “We had to high-tail it out of there,” Antico said. “Less than two hours into the trip, we almost had the car confiscated!”





























 
Antico handled most of the driving duties, allowing Greenfield, who was recovering from strep throat, some rest between the swag giveaways and photo shoots. For Greenfield, it wasn’t always easy to sleep in the car with the relentless honking of delirious UConn fans (the Sonic sported a “Honk if You Love UConn” sign). “The adrenaline of being a Road Warrior, combined with the antibiotics, helped me get through it,” Greenfield said. “It was pretty cool to look out the window and notice people’s faces as they saw the car.” “On the way down, this created a lot of fun. On the way home, it got a bit aggressive,” Antico said. “A group of Kentucky fans in a blue painted minivan, flags and all, were not in the greatest mood. They tailgated us pretty good for a few miles. At one point, I was worried we’d be run off the road.”





















After nearly 1,700 miles, the Road Warriors arrived in Dallas Friday night at 11 p.m., six hours later than planned. “We had grossly underestimated the time it would take to hit all the landmarks, get Brett in costume, and do things like fill the gas tank six times,” Antico said. “But we still made it on Friday, our goal.” This was marketed as a two-day road trip. The Road Warriors weren’t about to let their fans down.




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