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On The Rising Ubiquity of Brackets.

Building on Tom Roach's brilliant takedown of the "sea of sameness" in the marketing and advertising industry, I'm making more of an effort to document and comment on trends (especially digital ones) that suddenly seem to be everywhere. Today's subject: brackets.

If you're US-based, you're less likely to be surprised at why I'm talking about brackets at this particular point. After all, we're right in the midst of March Madness - bracket season as per Google trends, not just in the States...

But around the world.

Little as I care about the NCAA (or sports in general), I do care about the cultural zeitgeist - which at the moment is pretty bracket heavy.

Especially on social.

(Brief digression because my British colleagues' reactions to the term "brackets" - and the decidedly March-agnostic search interest around brackets here - made it amply clear that this hasn't really entered the British national consciousness.

As per Wikipedia's article on March Madness Pools, "A bracket is a form that can be completed on-line or printed out and completed by hand whereby the participant predicts the outcome of each game in the tournament. His or her predictions are compared against others in the pool, and whoever has the best prognostication skills wins the contest.")'s a roundup of the current brackets making rounds on Twitter. (Another disclaimer: of course there's a fundamental difference in terms of how the NCAA March Madness pools work compared to these social brackets - the former is about prognostication whereas the latter is about active participation - but since the internet seems to be conflating the terms I'm following suit for the sake of ease.)

Bracket madness

Buzzfeed has one about Game of Thrones.

The NewsCorp-owned New York Post's liberal-baiting Mueller Madness bracket (also released on March 25) isn't Twitter based, but is still making waves on social - especially because the White House Press Secretary tweeted it out in a pretty polarizing way.

Amazon Prime Video is having a SciFi showdown:

The Academy wants to know the best picture of all times (look at the number of votes):

And though I'll stop here, a quick Twitter search shows that these brands are definitely not alone.

Why brands are joining in the bracket madness

It's all about organic engagement (which, as organic reach, is generally going down). As above, almost 3.5K people voted in the Academy Award bracket poll...and Buzzfeed's #GoTBracket polls are getting even more votes.

Amazon Prime Video isn't doing too badly either...

Why social brackets work

They're easy and low input - participants just have to make a simple binary choice. If it's about something they care about, you've got a natural conversation-driver on your hands. Case in point: one of BBH Labs' most popular articles and social series last year was the "World Cup" of ad books.

So should more brands jump on the bracketwagon?

If you have an idea for a social bracket tournament that's relevant for your brand, there's no serious reason not to do it. Especially if you can make it a little bit more original than "which of our [products / products related to our brand] do you like best?" Take a look at what's out there to see what kind of questions and voting mechanisms work and which don't.

However: If distinctiveness is the key to driving brand value and profitability (and the data suggests that it is), investing a lot of time and energy into creating the perfect bracket for your brand is a waste of time - it's being done to death.

PS - My favorite bracket tournament takes place in October and involves fat bears.



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