March Madness: The True Underdog Story

Every NCAA Tournament kick starts spring and there is truly nothing like the opening days of tournament basketball. People have put all their time and effort into studying brackets for their office or friendly pool. As the tournament starts we all question whether a 16 seed will finally upset a number 1 seed. Yet again, this year it did not happen. No matter what happens there are always upsets, and this tournament was no different. After the upsets occur the “Cinderella Story” comparisons start to fly around. Marketers and advertisers beg to ask who will wear the glass slipper this year.

For some reason our country loves the underdog story. We love to see Rocky make a courageous comeback and win the fight in the last round after getting beat the entire time. The NCAA Tournament has its fair share of underdog stories this year with Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond, and Butler. Butler is the most ironic of the “Cinderella Stories” because they reached the NCAA Final last year and came narrowly close to beating National Champion Duke. So why do we love to see Butler as the underdog? Reporters continue to ask Butler Head Basketball Coach Brad Stevens about the Cinderella story and he simply responds with “the Cinderella story worked well for us last year so I love to hear it.” The problem is that we are much too quick to forget about Cinderella teams. Marketers and advertisers use these schools and teams to market their underdog story and then after the tournament we quickly forget about them. We don’t hear a word about the universities or their basketball teams until they become the underdog story then marketers pump money to inflate their story. The Butler Bulldogs were not talked about much this regular season yet they find themselves in the Sweet Sixteen again. No matter how successful they were last season Butler will continue to be branded as a Cinderella team because they are a small school that lacks a deep, rich basketball tradition. Teams like Kansas and North Carolina will never be mentioned as an underdog or a Cinderella no matter how much better the opposing team is. These branding techniques seem to always be used during March Madness.

There is a special story for two of the three Cinderella teams previously named. If Richmond and VCU both win it will be the first time in NCAA Tournament history that two teams from the same city or town will have played each other. Let’s hope that both win so we can celebrate two great teams from Richmond making it to the Elite Eight. More importantly, we can cheer for our fellow Colonial Athletic Association partners the VCU Rams. I’m sure CBS and advertisers will hype up the battle of the underdogs and ask whether the glass slipper fits Richmond or VCU. At this point we might be getting ahead of ourselves, but we can all dream. Hey, it worked for Cinderella.

7 thoughts on “March Madness: The True Underdog Story

  1. I agree about how well the Cinderella story works at promoting a brand or a team in this case. But like you said, no matter how much an underdog team is promoted during the tournament, if they do not make it they will soon be forgotten. The underdog or Cinderella story will only be successful if the end result is a win. That is the whole point of promoting a team that way, to create a story that fans will connect to and be happy when they win. However, like in past years, when the underdog does not win, the story ends and the team is forgotten until they show success in the next season.

  2. I am amazed at how persuasive the Cinderella story can be. I think it is in our nature to want to see the “loser” win. Last weekend I found myself repeatedly cheering for the underdogs, regardless of how damaging their success would be for my bracket. And yet now, several days later, I cannot even name the teams I was cheering for so passionately! For some reason the Cinderella story resonates, but it does not endure.

  3. I feel like you are dead on when explaining how much marketing and branding goes into a cinderella story. Each year an underdog team upsets some big name, big money school and is all over the news. People cant get enough of the underdog. But like you said as quickly as all the fame is brough to them they are dropped like it never happened. Take for example the samll private university of Davidson. Just a few years ago they were a huge story during March Madness but have you heard of them since? No. However what happenes when the underdog does win and the cinderella story does not end. Is that school or university now considered one of the elite or was their lucky run something to be forgotten as well?

  4. I never really thought about it but the Cinderella story is definitely an advertiser’s dream. We so often love to see small schools beat out schools such as UNC, Kentucky, or Duke, but why? I believe it’s a short-lived high. It’s exciting and your get anxius just wondering “is it possible?” When it becomes a possibility the hype dies down. Its just like that saying “we always want what we can’t have”, or at least what we think we can’t have. The example about Butler is what is most interesting. Although they reached great lengths last year during March Madness due to the fact they are not branded as a school known for their Basketball team they are STILL in the running to becoming Cinderella. That’s crazy!

  5. I agree with how cinderella stories help with the brand of small universities. Bracket busters happen every year and this keeps the viewers tuned in on games that really have no meaning to them other than hoping to see a big upset. A cinderella story must end with the shoe fitting and a NCAA tournament championship or all will be forgotten.

  6. I love the cinderella/underdog story but the whole point of the proverbial glass slipper is to have it put on their foot. Sadly, this rarely happens since within the past twenty years NCAA winners have come from dominant conferences. Advertisers do love this concept because who didn’t want David to beat Goliath, the backstory to the head lines is what make those types of match ups interesting. You are absolutely right because no one really remembers second place.

  7. I never thought of it this way, but a cinderella story may infact be the only way to get the strongest type of attention for a brand. A cinderella story would be an advertisers dream and it would get everyone pumped up in anticipation right before the epic victory hits the news. This leads to constant buzz and eventual explosion of media coverge which can be soo helpful to any brand.

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