The Marketing “Win” of the Bracket Challenge

Well, it was all over on Friday night.  Not the NCAA basketball tournament: That will drag on for another two weeks.

No one picked all the winners of the first round of NCAA’s March Madness so no one was left in contention for the $1 billion prize for picking the winners of every game in the tournament in the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge.  By game 25 of the first 32 games there were no contestants left standing, done in primarily by upsets by Mercer, Harvard and Dayton.

Still to be determined are the winners of the 20 prizes that will go to those who picked the most accurate brackets.  These people will each receive $100,000 towards their current mortgage or a new mortgage.

Not that there was much of a question that anyone would win the big prize.  In terms of random odds, it was a 1-in-9 quadrillion chance.  Statisticians said that someone who followed college basketball on a regular basis and used some long-term results of the NCAA tournament might lower the odds to a still-astronomical 1-in-128 billion chance of winning.  Still, it is nice to dream.

The big win was for Quicken Loans, which partnered with Yahoo and Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway on the contest.  It is unclear at this point what the other parties contributed to the contest and how many people actually participated (the plan was that up to 15 million people could enter the contest).  So for $2 million in prizes, the cost of buying insurance from Berkshire Hathaway and running television commercials, Quicken Loans received tens of millions of dollars in publicity about the contest.

But the big win was collecting information on millions of people (contact information, age, value of their property, mortgage balance, home buying plans, etc.).  One direct marketing expert in the mortgage business put the value of this information as at least $50 per person and maybe as much as $300.  Let’s say only 10 million people entered the contest, and putting the value of that information at the low end of $50 per entrant, Quicken Loans received information worth $500 million.  Wow!

Oh and I forgot, participants also had to sign up for a Yahoo account, so Yahoo must have pitched in some funds for the contest and received millions of new members.  Some will undoubtedly use Yahoo services, which should help the company sell more advertising.

And Warren Buffet had his and his company’s name connected to a big story (like he needed the publicity!) and his company probably made a million or two on the premium for the insurance.  Despite the incredible odds against someone winning, Quicken Loans couldn’t take the chance.

And the “losers” in all this?  Hard to tell.  No one was forced to enter the contest and there was no cost to enter.  But giving up personal information was the price of entry.  If you didn’t want to provide the information, you just had to close the browser window.  Or if you entered and don’t want to hear from Quicken Loans or Yahoo in the future, you just have to unsubscribe to their emails or close your account.   But it is just another lesson that “free” rarely is.


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