Marketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella

March Madness is well underway. The first four days of the tournament have yielded dominant play from its top-seeded teams, unsuspected nail-biters from longtime mainstays, bracket-busting flops, and improbable triumphs from the unlikeliest of sources.

As Dickie V would say: “It’s awesome, baby, with a capital A!”

Marketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella image dick vitaleMarketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella

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The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has certainly lived up to its billing, and it will continue Thursday when the remaining Sweet 16 contests for a spot in the Elite 8. The tournament thus far prompted me to drum up a few comparisons of this year’s dominant team, perennial power and spirited Cinderella to some of the top consumer brands.

Formidable Force

Louisville

The top-seeded Cardinals headed to the Big Dance with the last Big East Conference title in tow. They handled Syracuse quite easily to win the conference championship game, and in the NCAA Tournament Louisville has yet to disappoint, destroying its first two opponents by an average of 28.5 points.

Under the direction of future Hall of Famer Rick Pittino, Louisville is firing on all cylinders.

According to a recent CNBC report, the Cardinals are the most profitable team in college basketball, despite competition from cross-state rival Kentucky. Louisville is now two wins away from its second consecutive Final Four appearance, but it’s eying its first national championship since 1986. Although it’s yet to capture a national title under Pittino’s watch, his Cardinals have failed to qualify for the NCAA tourney just twice since he took over in 2001, winning five conference tournament championships along the way.

Louisville currently has a leading 3/1 odds to win the NCAA championship and have been among the favorites over the course of the past few years.

Marketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella image Louisville AppleMarketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella

Brand comparison: Apple

During the last few years, no brand has been able to unseat Apple as the King of Technology, despite stiff competition from the likes of Microsoft, Google and others. In 2010 we saw a changing of the guard: Apple surpassed Microsoft to become the world’s most valuable technology company.

It’s had its shortcomings over the course of the last decade or so, including some slip-ups most recently with the iPhone 5 and the Apple Maps app. But Apple’s innovative thinkers and thought-leaders (like Pittino) have kept them ahead of the competition.

ITunes, the iPhone and iPad have become ubiquitous accessories for a vast majority of people, and most of us are excited for what’s in store for the future. Apple will likely continue to be one of the most influential brands in the world.

But what if the nation’s top brands were to go toe-to-toe in a bracket-style tournament? You’d be hard-pressed to bet against Apple.

Perennial Power

Duke

You either love them or hate them, but each year Duke finds a way to be among the top 10 programs in the nation. The Blue Devils’ most recent national title came in 2010, but they’ve advanced to the Sweet 16 in four of the last five seasons.

They’re one of the most formidable brands in college sports under coach Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I hoops. As long as Coach K is around, the product Duke has assembled over the course of his tenure will remain one of the most marketable in sports.

Duke’s consistency over the past 30 years has played the centric role in its dominant popularity and play. Fans and consumers latch on to a brand that wins both on and off the court.

Marketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella image Duke Coca ColaMarketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella

Brand comparison: Coca-Cola

Just as Duke is a mainstay among the top brands in college basketball, Coca-Cola is undoubtedly a perennial power when it comes to brands. A fixture among the world’s favorite brands, Coca-Cola has ranked as the No. 1 brand since 2005 in its respective category, according to the annual Harris Poll EquiTrend Study.

The Harris Poll cites Coca-Cola among a short list of revered brands that “consistently delivers on its brand experience and remains relevant to today’s consumers.” That couldn’t be more true for Coca-Cola, one of the most recognized and beloved brands in the world and on the Web.

Coca-Cola’s 62 million Facebook fans ranks second only to Facebook. It also has 3.3 million videos posted on YouTube, 204,000 LinkedIn followers and 63,000 Twitter followers. Aside from consumer-driven content (i.e., Facebook), Coca-Cola’s website Coca-ColaCompany.com is full of all types of appealing content that’s worth reading, watching and sharing.

Cinderella

Florida Gulf Coast

Chances are you knew little to nothing about Florida Gulf Coast University prior to this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Eagles were just another No. 15 seed that played its way into the Big Dance by winning some obscure conference title (Atlantic Sun Conference, to be exact). FGCU didn’t even finish atop the conference’s regular season standings.

Yet the Eagles stormed into the tournament by knocking off second-seeded Georgetown in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. It marked just the seventh time that a No. 15 seed beat a No. 2, which is likely a big reason why Florida Gulf Coast is the tournament’s buzziest remaining team on Facebook.

Following another strong win, FGCU has a date with third-seeded Florida on Friday. The Eagles aren’t the only Cinderella in the Sweet 16; Wichita State and La Salle are both considered surprises at this stage of the tournament.

But the Eagles have turned out to be the team to watch.

Marketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella image Dunk CityMarketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella

They’re fast-paced, alley-oop laden, Harlem-Globetrotters-style offense has gotten so much national praise that the City of Fort Myers proudly boasts #DunkCity on its homepage.

Marketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella image FGCU Warby ParkerMarketing Madness: The Biggest Brand Powerhouse, Mainstay and Cinderella

Brand comparison: Warby Parker

So what if your bracket was OK before Florida Gulf Coast happened? You’re pulling for them to win now. At this point in the tournament, it’s merely a fad to root for the unlikeliest of champions. Though by putting the program on the map this March, the Eagles are sure to attract fans for years to come—especially during March Madness.

Warby Parker, an online retailer that sells fashionable prescription eyewear at affordable prices, makes it exceptionally easy for consumers to browse the site and pick out their favorite pair of glasses or shades. The website features a virtual try-on, which allows customers to upload a picture of themselves to see what they may look like in a certain pair of glasses. Furthermore, Warby Parker sends up to five pairs of glasses to those wishing to try on glasses from home completely free (including free shipping), with no obligation to make a purchase.

And much like Florida Gulf Coast’s willingness to throw down at least one high-light reel dunk per game, Warby Parker provides a pair of eyeglasses to someone in need whenever someone purchases their glasses. It also provides funding to non-profits, which train low-income entrepreneurs to sell affordable glasses. That sounds like a brand that’s easy to root for, right?

If the top brands went toe-to-toe in a March Madness-style bracket, which one would win it all?

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