It’s March, that time of year when tens of millions of Americans fill out their NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets. They compete against office mates and total strangers on the Internet to pick the eventual champion or earn the most points in a scoring system that is now part of America’s collective unconscious. The estimate of up to $4 billion in workplace productivity lost due to bracket maintenance doesn’t seem to bother too many folks either.
Then there are the hundreds of millions of dollars wagered on this three-week event. So what in the world can get a guy from New Jersey remotely interested in the California State University Northridge Matadors? It’s the whole bracket thing, this interactive, highly visual view of the tourney that requires a simple series of binary decisions—yes/no, win/lose—leading to a champion. It is engaging because of its visceral tangibility.
Interestingly, it is this same visceral tangibility that has fueled the populist outrage at the AIG executives’ bonuses. Politicians in Washington are mortgaging our grandchildren’s future with trillion dollar deficits, and most folks find these staggering figures incomprehensible, and therefore unreal.
But with the mental image of an AIG executive getting handed a million dollar check, made possible by all those IRS deductions on your paycheck, things get very tangible, very fast.
Well, whether we take our cues from the NCAA or from AIG, these brackets and bailouts have the one thing in common that marketers need in order to to sell their products, services and ideas: visceral tangibility.
Here’s the formula, the secret sauce of marketing:
Something That Creates an Emotion
+ Something That Can Be Visualized
= Something That Generates a Response
It’s why benefits sell better than features.
It’s why storytelling always beats PowerPoint.
It’s perhaps why, if the government bailout had called for the AIG executives to play a tournament of one-on-one basketball to see who gets the full $165 million, nobody would mind too much. We’d be too busy filling out our AIG brackets.