The last few weeks have seen the annual "March Madness" surrounding the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, with the conclusion only days away.

While the competition is fun to follow, especially if your favorite team or alma mater is still in the running, I’d like to draw your attention to some factors in play, hidden in plain sight if you will, that add to the excitement:

While there are countless multi-round tournaments in any number of sports, only the NCAA has evolved a truly outstanding "portfolio" of brand names surrounding the tournamant and its stages, each of which make use of the principles of good brand names (first discussed here), foremost of the principle of "rhythm, rhyme, and speakability" including by way of alliteration:

First there is the already mentioned "March Madness" to describe the entire procedure. Then there are the named tournament rounds, the "Sweet Sixteen" (what is sometimes called a 1/8 final), the "Elite Eight" quarter-final, and the lastly the "Final Four" semi-final.

Note that in large part due to the alliterations, the NCAA terms roll of the tongue much more so than the traditional, generic terms.

Now you may be saying, "why does this matter so much, I don’t even care about basketball…"

It matters because enjoyment derived from saying a brand name is a strong predictor of the both the viral success as well as the depth of imprint in the consumer’s mental real estate of that name. Making it enjoyable to repeat, to say or think more often, will accelerate the spread of a meme through a population, and embed it more thoroughly in the individual.

Rhythm and rhyme, including alliteration (which you could see as a form of front-loaded rhyme), are pleasant and also more memorable to our unconscious minds (that is the reason why you still remember most advertising jingles to this day).

It doesn’t hurt that each NCAA "brand name" is reasonably short, while also still being sufficiently descriptive/evocative of the things they are referring to.

In fact, they even take out some of the complexity of having to think of the somewhat confusing traditional "quarter-final", asf. terminology (number of teams left devided by 2), in favor of simply counting the number of teams still in the tournament. Simplicity is typically good. Simplicity wins.

Yet none of the names are too generic to hurt differentiation in your mental real estate. And they all are easily understood, requiring no spelling out (unlike this massive brand name failure). But the alliterations providing a certain rhythm and rhyme are ultimately the most important drivers in this case.

The end result is, more people talk about March Madness and its rounds, more often.

It is very likely that you were already familiar with these NCAA Tournament "brand names" EVEN IF you’re not particularly following basketball. Now that’s strong branding. You would do well to apply these powerful principles to your own brand naming.

If you can’t get all of them lined up for a given name, apply as many as you can. One thing we do know is, "March Madness" is a winner…

74 thoughts on “Brand Naming Lesson From The NCAA’s March Madness

  1. Alex,

    Great insight on NCAA’s clever brand naming. I agree – the alliteration and visual picture are both powerful tools for ensuring viral success.

    I love how you’ve taken something we are all familiar with and pointed out the significance of what we were overlooking/taking for granted. Most people don’t think of marketing when they think of March Madness. :)

    Very timely and relevant. Keep it coming!

  2. Deann, thanks for props. Thought of this about a week ago, and I guess got it in just under the wire before the tourney is over.

    Then again, as to timeliness, it is April Fool’s today… while this post is meant fully in earnest :)

  3. I fully agree about the “effectiveness of alliteration” (did that sound alliterative enough?) The only potential risk is that you can sometimes get “too cute” and phrases sound alluring, but communicate nothing (I’ve personally had this problem in the past). But, yes, overall I agree that a phrase like “Final Four” is a powerful branding tool.

  4. Matthew, I completely agree with you. The alliteration thing can be taken too far, and in fact I said the very same thing just today regarding a Mashable post on “(Twitter) hashtag memes for every weekday” ( *link* ) that mentioned examples such as “#winewednesday”.

    If it has little meaning, it will likely end up simply too-cute-by-half as I like to call it. Which actually makes the NCAA coming up with (or getting away with) 4 that work in a row that much more remarkable, no?

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