predicting the final four through branding

so the ncaa basketball tournament is down to 4 teams, which I predicted perfectly in my bracket. (I also predicted the previous rounds correctly – that it would go from 64 to 32, then to 16, then to 8.) (I have no idea what’s going to happen after 4.)

if you’re laying money down, sure, you can look at the players, the coaches, the venue. but you’d also be well-served to see which teams have the better branding. because at this point, the remaining teams are like so many products on store shelves – wallowing in parity and looking for that extra edge. and often, that edge is found in marketing.

North Carolina and Villanova. a traditional basketball power versus the cinderella team of 1985.

both are sponsored by nike. (technically, I believe 87% of the world’s products are sponsored by nike.) but that’s where the commonalities end.

north carolina has a distinctive logo, with a highly stylized NC. their colors aren’t just white and blue, they’re white and carolina blue. (ironically, the first four NC logos that came up in a google search were 4 different shades of “carolina blue.”) and like a good brand, they have a reason for EVERYTHING they do – whether it makes any sense (the colors) or not (the mascot, the nickname).

as with every academic institution, they’re prone to arrogance (“The University of North Carolina athletic department is considered to be one of the best in the country”) and bragging about even the most minor-sounding accolades (NC is “among the best 361 colleges” according to Princeton Review). unfortunately, north carolina isn’t at its best on TV where brand exposure is at its highest. let’s look at this commercial which is either their latest spot, or one from 1973. or both:

now onto the villanova brand. in a word, yech. in 235 words:

this school is in serious need of a branding overhaul. the V logo isn’t particularly distinctive, and unlike NC, is not an ownable letter once you get, say, 38 feet from the campus boundary. its nickname, like every other high school in the country, is the “wildcats.” its motto is in Latin, but I’m catholic so I can read it. it says, “truth, unity, love.” other than “truth” I think any college can say that. come to think of it, I believe that’s pepsi’s new campaign motto as well. lastly, the name. it needs to change. 1) it gets confused with vanderbilt; 2) it sounds too much like “vanilla.” peter arnell would have a field day with this assignment.

their bragging points wreak of desperation (“we’re the largest catholic university in commonwealth of Pennsylvania”). if you try to order final four merchandise on their website, you get a message that “due to the overwhelming support of our loyal customers, our website has been inundated with web orders.” yes, websites always seem to be susceptible to “web orders.”

just to club the baby seal once more, we turn to villanova’s tv commercial, which is a veritable cuisinart of academic clichés. listen for the following terms: vibrant, creative, community, dedicated, development, mind and heart, award-winning faculty, nationally recognized academic program, focus, mission, foundation, comprehensive educational experience, prepares students, successful careers, rewarding lives, transforming minds and hearts (again!).

based on branding, my prediction is: North Carolina by 86 points.

Connecticut and Michigan State. this one’s tougher to call.

both schools have had a lot of success on the court, mostly in the last decade or so. both are sponsored by nike. both have ridiculous-sounding fight song lyrics. (UConn is a “symbol of might to the foe”; MSU is “fighting with a vim.”)

both have had identity crises. UConn is now the Huskies. prior to that, they were the Aggies; MSU is now the Spartans, but were also previously known as the Aggies. a lansing, michigan newspaper held a contest in the 1920s to come up with a better nickname. the winning pick was the “Michigan State Staters.” a lesson in the perils of focus groups if ever there was one.

to make matters more confusing for MSU, the actual college has had 6 different names, which must’ve driven the people at jostens crazy. (if it ever comes up in trivial pursuit, the answers are 1855 – Agricultural College of the State of Michigan; 1861 – State Agricultural College; 1909 – Michigan Agricultural College; 1925 – Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science; 1955 – Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science; 1964 – Michigan State University)

so what separates them?

UConn’s brand profile has risen dramatically since ESPN set up shop down the road in Bristol. while the name “husky” isn’t unique, and while the term always seems like it’s referring to a fat guy rather than an athletic team, at least UConn has branded their fandom “Huskymania.” and unlike MSU, UConn’s website is also a lesson in balance between academics and athletics which means you’re as likely to read about the West Indian Student Awareness Organization’s annual Patty Sales (this wednesday at the union, 12-4) as you are about the basketball team and its latest violations.

as for their commercial, they emphasize you’re “always part of U” – a slogan which does not appear anywhere else.

MSU’s logo is a simple block S, which looks a lot like the block S of stanford. and it stands for “state” which is shared by, well, at least 49 other colleges. their colors are green and white. not forest green, not kelly green, not british racing green. green. again, not particularly ownable. and their tagline, which is carried throughout their website and commercial, is “Advancing Knowledge. Transforming Lives.” which is as bad as vanderbilt’s cuisinart of academic clichés, only shorter. as for tv commercials, let’s roll the tape, bob:

woah, wait a minute! a nick drake song? kudos. an environmental message? double kudos. even in this day of social networking, a tv commercial continues to play a significant role in defining a school's brand. and MSU wins that one hands down.

based on all the above, my prediction is: Michigan State will win by 1½ points.

DISCLAIMER: in spite of the fact that 1) Michigan State is my alma mater; 2) I met my wife and bestest friends in the world there; and 3) the school introduced me to a profession I love, I remain completely unbiased.


Dan Consiglio said...

like we didn't see this one coming...
(good luck in the F4)

15 ideas said...

you mean having four teams left? see, I won my bracket already with that insight. my math skillz - they are mad.