Commentary

Finding Meaning in the March Madness: Buick's Human Highlight Reel

NCAA

I admit to being clueless when it comes to sports, and even more ignorant of basketball. Not that I have tried to understand what a damned "bracket" is, mind you, but I am pretty sure there is something fundamental about it I am missing. In my house March Madness only means another excuse to delay "60 Minutes" and bump Letterman, the two CBS shows we watch. But it was during one of my stray glances at the CBS coverage that I caught a Buick campaign that was well done, uplifting and brand smart. It is a beautifully shot and composed spot that features the muscular determination of college athletes translating these values into real world acts of giving later in life. The ad directs us to an online video program that expands the theme at NCAA.com/Buick.

The Buick Human Highlights Reel is a good old-fashioned bit of broad branding and uplifting branded content. The online piece offers up a select group of former college athletes and the helping professions they eventually pursued. From Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her founding of the Special Olympics to a former UCLA star who is working in sports medicine for middle and high school students, the clips are all well-told stories that tie personal and team ambition into larger social goals. They remind us of something long lost in college sports - the emphasis on the "college" piece. These are pursuits that do not and should not always lead to adulthood in even more hyped professional sports but in lives well spent.

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The campaign is not only nicely on message, but it is a good example of branded content that is well balanced. The stories and the values they represent are put forward, not the marketing message. But overall the focus is on the people. A user generated video component is here as well. Viewers are invited to submit their own stories of converting college sports values to life after graduation. Only a handful of videos are there now, but it would be good to see more of the everyday college jocks tell their own stories and to highlight the good causes they represent.

Which is not to say that Buick hasn't also achieved a nice bit of smart branding here. Sure the new car ad is there and the Buick logo is unmistakable. More subtle is the way "Buick" and "Human" are juxtaposed artfully for a kind of associative effect. The celebration of determination and the positive values of sport is in keeping with a U.S. car industry fighting back to glory, an effort that arguably is larger than a business comeback. But unlike the much more overt Chrysler "Imported from Detroit" campaign, this approach shows and does instead of tells. They simply did good by aligning themselves with and advancing do-gooders.
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