March 11, 2010: When it comes to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball tournament, corporate partners including AT&T, Coca-Cola, LG, Lowe's and State Farm are allowed to use such trademarked terms as "March Madness," "NCAA Sweet 16" and "Final Four" in marketing campaigns while others can not. Unsanctioned marketers can even get busted for mentioning the NCAA.
None the less, the marketing giant and overwhelming consumer interest of the upcoming tournament is too hard to resist for companies such as Coke rival PepsiCo, which has unveiled a carefully worded effort, "SoBe Lifewater Zero Inhibitions Bracket Challenge Sweepstakes." The campaign, which begins next week, is offering $10 million in prizes and includes four celebrities - Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, model Brooklyn Decker, TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith and former Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson. The campaign is being sponsored by AOL, which is hosting a dedicated Web site.
The SoBe effort, which never mentions the NCAA, invites consumers to create brackets — a term widely recognized by followers of the NCAA tournament but not trademarked by the organization — and pit their results against the four celebrities. Marketing proclaims using untrademarked terms, "Welcome hoops fans. Are you ready for a little madness?"
Top prize: A perfect bracket — all 63 games, excluding the play-in game — puts consumers in line for a chance to win $9 million. Top scorers in each round have the chance to win up to $1 million more in prize money.
In addition, visitors can choose the celebrity they want to play against, which puts them is a position for a chance to meet that celeb in person. (Full details here.)
"We wanted a bold way to let the world know that SoBe knows Zero," Angelique Krembs, SoBe marketing director, said in a statement. "That is, SoBe knows delicious naturally sweetened taste with zero calories. For hoops fans, it also means SoBe offers the opportunity to take home a whole lot of zeroes. And we topped it all with the chance to rub elbows with some bold celebs…can you say zero inhibitions? It all adds up to Zero, and in this case, it’s huge!”
According to Wilkinson, “I’m pretty confident about my ability to pick a good bracket. I can’t wait to see if there’s anybody out there with the knowledge – or luck – to beat me. I’m throwing down the challenge to hoops fans everywhere – you better bring your game if you want to beat me and have the chance to meet me.”