Buick is joining in on the March Madness bracket craze with its own "Sweet 16."
The brand on Monday is launching the Bracket Showdown, which pits 16 trick-shot artists in a tournament-style online promotion on Buick.com.
Buick's bracket, which will be pushed on the brand's social-media channels, calls for people to vote for the best trick shots in head-to-head matchups. The competitors include: 4-year-old Trick Shot Titus, whose YouTube videos have drawn millions of views (with one crossing 18 million views); the high-flying dunk specialists Team Flight Brothers, who are an NBA halftime act; and the acrobatic, trampoline-assisted Dunking Devils.
Several of the trick shots use Buick vehicles as props.
"They're pretty incredible. It's going to be a hard time selecting one to win," said Molly Peck, Buick's director of marketing and advertising, in an interview. "Some are amazing feats of coordination, some are amazing feats of physics."
Buick, once a mainstay on the manicured greens of the PGA Tour, is getting mighty comfortable in the fanatical atmosphere of the NCAA, especially the "Big Dance." The brand, which has been a corporate partner of the NCAA for five years, sees the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament as a prime springboard for its campaigns.
Buick debuted its "Hmm" commercial -- known for the "That's not a Buick" punch line -- during the tournament last year.
The campaign was the backdrop of Buick's most successful year in a decade.
Buick sales were up 11% in 2014 after moving 228,963 units. Ms. Peck said the Enclave, one of Buick's lead vehicles in the NCAA partnership, had its best sales year ever despite being in the eighth year of its product life cycle.
Ms. Peck said the tournament has a "super desirable audience" that is "highly educated, highly engaged [and] diverse."
"The ultimate path is in sales," Ms. Peck said. "… When you look at those kinds of things, you look at what's not working in your overall marketing plan, but we look a lot at what is working. We definitely think NCAA is a key success factor in our communications plan. One thing is what you're saying, another is where you're saying it."
'That's not a Buick'
Buick will continue running an ad during the tournament that Ms. Peck says is an evolution of the "That's not a Buick" theme.
The ad, which touts the Wi-Fi capabilities of the Buick lineup, aired once during the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship in January. A modified version of the ad debuted nationally March 11 and will get a push during the basketball tournament.
Instead of viewers hearing "That's not a Buick," Ms. Peck said the message will shift to "That's a Buick" to tell customers what to expect from the brand.
"It will have the same tone and feel as the rest of our campaign," Ms. Peck said.
For all of the workplace slackers who will be streaming the games online with March Madness Live, Buick is again sponsoring the humorous Boss Button to cover them.
When someone clicks on the stream's Boss Button, a dummy page appears that blocks out the game and makes it appear someone is doing something constructive.
There are display options for those watching the game at work, in class or at home.
The work display is a fake PowerPoint presentation titled "Q1 accomplishments." It might look legit to a passerby, but a closer look shows that it's actually a Buick promotion. Users can even type in the presentation's notes section to add to the illusion.
The home option is just a fake search engine that auto-fills with Buick-related phrases.
The class layout is called "Creative Writing 101," and is made up of several pages, including a "syllabus" and "lecture notes." People can actually type in it like a word processor and re-title each section.
During the Final Four in Indianapolis, the Buick Enclave will be the official welcome vehicle for the teams. The team buses will be escorted by the Enclave.
Buick also will be the official vehicle of the Final Four Fan Fest at the Indiana Convention Center next month. Buick will have its lineup on display, while providing activities such as Bracketball.
Buick will showcase its lineup outside of Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of game, as well.
Ms. Peck said, "March Madness is the granddaddy of college sporting events for sure."
Infiniti, also an NCAA corporate partner, is co-sponsoring the March Madness Live Android app, in which people can watch the games on their phones (Buick is co-sponsoring the iPad and iPhone versions). Infiniti is also sponsoring round-by-round brackets on CBSSports.com that let people submit new brackets each round.
Infiniti said it saw a 25% boost in brand searches online during last year's tournament, which it attributes to the brand's promotions. Infiniti's marketing will focus on the QX60 during the preliminary rounds this year, then move to the Q50 during the Final Four.
"What's interesting about college sports is that there's a pretty even male/female skew, so we're able to get both genders, which is really nice," said Allyson Witherspoon, Infiniti USA's director of marketing communications and media, in an interview. "You don't always get that with every sport."
Infiniti will offer virtual test drives of the Q50 for fans in Indianapolis next month.
--Vince Bond, Jr. is a reporter for Automotive News