Kraft Snacks Partner With NCAA, CBS Sports

kraftKraft Foods' U.S. snacks business has signed a multi-season agreement with the NCAA and CBS Sports to be an official NCAA corporate partner for several of its flagship brands, including Planters, Ritz, Oreo and Wheat Thins.

The agreement represents another extension of Kraft Snacks' overall "big stages for big brands" strategy, which has already resulted in several high-profile sports marketing initiatives.

"This latest sponsorship is far from an ad hoc decision," Stephen Chriss, Kraft Foods senior director, marketing alliances tells Marketing Daily. "Our strategic approach is to leverage these partnerships to connect our flagship brands to key audiences in a big way. They provide major opportunities for integrated marketing and merchandising platforms that create excitement in and out of store."

In January, Kraft announced that in addition to re-upping its official NASCAR cookie/cracker sponsorships for Oreo and Ritz for two years, it had signed with Stewart-Haas Racing to make Oreo and Ritz the official cookie/cracker sponsors of that Sprint Cup Series team.



Kraft also featured former football star/sports analyst Tiki Barber in its Ritz "Tailgate" ad and Wall Street tie-in event early this year. Previous sports-related snacks efforts included using athletes Eli and Peyton Manning and Venus and Serena Williams for an "Oreo Double Stuf Racing League" campaign.

The deal making Kraft's brands the NCAA's official/exclusive cookies/crackers/nuts spans all 88 of the men's and women's collegiate championships, including basketball, football, baseball, hockey and lacrosse.

Marketing/advertising components will include new product sampling, contests, promotions, college-themed in-store displays and a major advertising buy on CBS Sports spanning both television and The CBS Sports advertising commences this month during the network's exclusive coverage of the March Madness basketball tournaments.

The sponsorship's launch is timed to jump on numerous opportunities tied to March Madness -- basketball being the "tent pole" of the partnership investment, in terms of consumer reach for the snack brands, notes Chriss. March Madness product sampling efforts will focus on two of Kraft's newest snacks -- Ritz Munchables pretzel crisps and Planters Flavor Grove almonds and cashews -- and Wheat Thins. Wheat Thins will get added exposure via branded food/beverage trays with cracker samples attached, produced by BRANDedTRAY, that will be used by concessions at 18 of the men's and women's tournament venues (estimated combined attendance: 1.7 million). And by no coincidence, a basketball-themed TV spot for Ritz Munchables began airing this week.

The partnership is enabling Kraft to use a "Munch Madness" theme for promotions during the tournaments, including special in-store displays for the snack brands, already being activated. (As important as sports-venue and media exposure are "at the end of the day, you have to win in the store," observes Chriss.)

The roster of activities also includes a Planters' Mr. Peanut Mobile tour that will visit the venues leading up to the men's "Final Four" games in Indianapolis in early April. Planters will be present and conduct sampling at the "Bracket Town Refreshed by Coke Zero" fan exhibits/games/activities to take place at the Indianapolis Convention Center April 1-5.

The snacks' branded Web sites and social media (Facebook, in particular) will play important roles not only during March Madness, but throughout the various NCAA tournaments, confirms Chriss.

For instance, starting March 12, Planters Facebook fans can both follow Mr. Peanut's own "Road to the Final Four" and enter for a chance to win tickets to the 2011 NCAA Men's Final Four in Houston. Kraft will also harness the Facebook pages of Oreo (boasting nearly 4 million fans), Ritz and Wheat Thins for various "Munch Madness" promotions, such as coupons for new products and game-day recipes using the snacks.

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