March to Final Four Friday: 5 Questions With Reese’s Brand Managers

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Reese's Final Four Friday NCAA March Madness

The TV debut of Reese’s Crunchy Cookie Big Cup got off to a rocky start on NBC’s Today show, when Today Take segment cohost Brooke Shields mistakenly said the newfangled variety, which debuts in May, was made with Oreo cookie crumbs. (Wrong brand alert!)

Her co-hosts quickly corrected the mistake (Oreo is a Mondelez brand, after all, and it’s highly unlikely that company ever would create a mash-up product with a rival as big as the Hershey-owned Reese’s) and the NBC crew went on to enjoy the fact that they were eating an indulgent new candy product before most Americans had breakfast, or before it’s available in stores.

No matter. Reese’s seems to be locked in only for good things to happen with this year’s installment of its nine-year marketing relationship with March Madness, the NCAA’s college basketball tournament that tips off on March 14th.

Reese's NCAA logo

The brand has signed a five-year extension as the “Official Confectionery Partner” of the NCAA men’s basketball championship, in league with CBS Sports and Turner Sports. Now it’s ramping up for its big moment in the March Madness spotlight on Friday, March 31, which it will kick off with the Reese’s Final Four Friday to celebrate the tip-off of that weekend’s Final Four games in Phoenix.

Reese’s will headline the Reese’s College All-Star Game on March 31 and take its branding center-stage at the University of Phoenix stadium as fans gather from around the country for the Final Four match-up. Each of the last four teams in the tournament takes its final open practice before the games, where Reese’s is staging a multi-pronged activation that also includes entertainment, tributes and fan activities, part of the Final Four Friday festivities that brings fans and brands together.

“Our fans really enjoy the creative marketing projects and campaigns that Reese’s brand puts together, and we look forward to working with Hershey and the Reese’s brand for many years to come,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president for basketball, in a news release.

brandchannel spoke with Kristen Riggs, senior director of the Reese’s brand, and Eric Bowers, Reese’s brand manager, about the relationship with March Madness:

bc: What’s been the strategic importance for Reese’s of being associated with March Madness over these last nine years?

Eric Bowers - Reese's brand manager for The Hershey CompanyEric Bowers (right): There are three pillars as we continue to evolve our relationship with the NCAA. First is the consumer: It’s that one time of year of delivering the joy and excitement of the game, where consumers really seek that euphoria—and Reese’s can help deliver that with the unique combination of chocolate and peanut butter that consumers crave. It’s the ability to develop that relevance. The second pillar is our retailers, and the opportunity to partner with them and bring that experience to life. And the third is internally; it’s a rallying opportunity for our employees and drives engagement and builds our culture.

bc: What do you do in the stores?

Bowers: All of the materials, point of sale as well as merchandising, that are delivered in stores do an amazing job of building the experience for consumers to engage in the story. For example, we have cutouts of life-size basketball players, which create the expereince of the tournament in the store.

bc: And when it comes to Reese’s employees?

Kristen Riggs / HersheyKristen Riggs (right): Well, figuratively we paint our offices orange to some degree. We unveil a ton of [tournament] brackets for our employees to get behind. We have big video screens throughout all of our buildings, and we’ll have the games on. With Reese’s being the No. One brand in the category and the largest brand at our company, and the love and fandom that you see from Reese’s fans externally, multiply that by the thousands internally and see the excitement that our sales force has for that brand.

This is an enormous tentpole event, and our employees are incredibly proud of the company they work for—and especially proud of the brands and activations they see. We have viewing parties and bracket challenges, and the excitement around Reese’s helps the life and spirit and culture of the company.

bc: What have you learned through the years about making the on-site activation at Final Four weekend most effective for Reese’s?

Riggs: The thing that works best is that Final Four Friday is now Reese’s Final Four Friday. It’s our time to own the tournament, at the practice sessions, as fans come in for the tournament, and showcasing the all-star game with college seniors. That’s become our marquee event. It’s something that everyone can celebrate because players from all schools are represented. This is a big moment for us, and we have a stake in the ground around owning this event and trying to make it bigger and better every year.

Reese's Final Four Friday NCAA March Madness

bc: The competition for share of mind around March Madness is fiercer than ever. How do you keep from being drowned out, even as big as your execution is?

Riggs: March is one of the key times for our business, what with March Madness and the start of Easter season. We’re the No. 1 brand in the category and No. 1 brand in Easter, so capturing merchandising space in March and being able to bring March Madness and Easter together have given us incremental sales and excitement for consumers. March is our month.


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