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Vitamin Water Looks to Spread a Little Brand Madness of Its Own...

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The folks at Vitamin Water have always championed the idea of the look-away pass as a way to find ways to build brand value. Figure out what the competition would be doing and find a way to score with fans by going another way. It worked before they were purchased by Coke, when Brian Urlacher showed up at Super Bowl media day and caused a huge uproar, and a fine, by wearing a Vitamin Water hat during media day. There were hosts of athlete endorsements and catchy slogans on kiosks, with athletes like the Mets David Wright, even though the brand did not have the rights to use MLB marks (and never did).

And there have been the viral video campaigns...Steve Nash and 50 Cent, Dwight Howard, Kobe and Lebron... all done in fun, with a bit of a twist and designed to lure a demo who likes the edgy and still speak to the mainstream. Like their offices near the Whitestone Expressway in Queens, Vitamin Water wanted their campaigns to be more of the people and for the people, away from the mainstream flow of normal corporate spin and messaging and more along the lines of having fun and generating buzz in a very nontraditional way.

So now we move into March Madness time, where a host of brands are looking for ways to cut through the clutter and gain market share and discretionary dollar as all of the U.S. tunes in to watch the run to the Final four. Would anyone expect a traditional campaign from Vitamin Water (an NCAA partner through the dealings of their parent company, Coke)? No way.

The brand will this year revive the "official hydration partner" of the NCAA Tournament that they introduced last year. Their pitch last year rekindled the Duke-Kentucky rivalry which culminated with Christian Laettner taking a three quarter court heave from Brian Davis and sending the Dukies home in one of the greatest finishes in the history of Philadelphia's Spectrum. The campaign featured Laettner and Pitino as neighbors, with Laettner annoying Pitino by constantly replicating his famous buzzer-beater. In addition to its CBS run, the ads went viral, giving the brand a much-wanted added boost among a younger demo who may not have even seen or known about the classic play beforehand. The combo of traditional and viral worked perfectly to help grow the brand beyond a traditional sponsor buy.

This year's campaign is called "Mad Tips" and stars comedian Nick Swardson (known to fans of Comedy Central for his standup and Reno 911! appearances, he has also appeared in a slew of Adam Sandler movies). Each video has a guest star as well. Ad buys will include humor sites like collegehumor.com, funnyordie.com and sports sites like CBS Sportsline.

Swardson stars in three videos, "Bracket Recovery" - Don't misplace your bracket! Nick invents a
scenario that insures this will never happen
. Actress Katrina Bowden (30 Rock) guest stars.

"Ditching Work" - How to get your bosses permission to ditch work and to watch the NCAA Tourney from home with comic actor Kevin Farley (brother of Chris as guest) and "Road Trips" - an attempt to watch as many tournament games as possible - in person. John Farley (brother of Chris and Kevin) guest stars in the third one.

Now will any of the three have more impact than the thousands of cups players and coaches will be drinking out of and on camera during the tournament? Maybe not. Will the commercials on air have as big an impact on buying patterns and brand recognition than the viral play they receive? Maybe. However what the tone and the placement of the videos does virally is expose the brand...again...to an audience that is only casually interested in the games themselves and is more interested in the unusual off-court antics that are also going on during the two weeks of action. The spots set themselves apart from the drama and let the viewer, no matter where he or she sees it, know that Vitamin Water is about the event but is also about having fun and not taking the brackets as seriously as possible. In doing so, Vitamin Water again captures what all brands doing a mega-spend with CBS and the NCAA try to achieve...reaching the core while reminding the fringe, and keeping a brand top of mind at a time when people may not be focused directly on a product buying cycle.

While it may not follow the core messaging of other brands...even other Coke brands...it does score points for Vitamin Water with what they want to achieve during these great two weeks of interest in college hoops. After all, isn't scoring those points what the NCAA Tournament is all about?