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Volume 23 No. 14
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Tony's Take: NCAA sponsorship

Tony Ponturo is executive vice president of strategy for Turnkey Intelligence. He oversaw Anheuser-Busch’s marketing, media and sponsorship from 1991 to 2008.

Just like the final score of the NCAA championship game — Virginia 85, Texas Tech 77 — the numbers speak for themselves. But what is behind those numbers?

The same question should be applied to brand marketing: We see the research and consumer response, but what drove those numbers to reflect the reaction?

Building a fully integrated marketing plan from top to bottom still has substance today. The more you touch the consumer at all levels with relevant and connecting commercial messaging, the more you see the “numbers” that every brand marketer likes.

As we review the brand and consumer awareness from March Madness, we see very positive results from the NCAA’s partners.

Capital One (49%, +8 percentage points), AT&T (38%, +6) and Coca-Cola (45%, +2) all saw their integrated efforts resonate with the consumer. It’s tough to beat the troika of Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee — joined this year by Jim Nantz with the Capital One “Chuxedo.” AT&T had fun incorporating the faux announcer “Phil” in its “Just OK Is Not OK” campaign. I have mentioned this before in this column: Themed humor continues to be a very effective use of communication to the consumer in a cluttered TV commercial arena.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola used extensive in-store promotions and social media extensions with the NCAA Bracket Refresh Sweepstakes, and Lowe’s fared very well as a first-time NCAA partner, using Villanova coach Jay Wright in its “Do It Wright” campaign.

We also saw great impact from Buffalo Wild Wings (46%,+3), returning to its roots by positioning the sports bar as the “Official Hangout” of the NCAA.

It’s arguable that the marketing community as a whole may use the NCAA March Madness sponsorship from top to bottom more effectively than any other major property.