March Madness brackets aren't just for college basketball anymore.
In March 2013, bracket-style challenges are also the turf of brands looking to engage audiences with timely tournament-esque content.
Take Star Wars, for example. The Lucasfilm/Disney property has launched This Is Madness, or what StarWars.com says is the official tournament to decide the galaxy's most popular Star Wars character.
Instead of geographic regions, the bracket is split between the Light Side and the Dark Side. It has 32 characters total. Starting March 19, StarWars.com is asking fans to vote daily on matchups between characters like Master Yoda and Mace Windu or Jabba the Hutt and Salacious Crumb.
The winning character will be revealed April 9.
Lucasfilm declined comment.
After voting, participants receive the message, "Thank you for voting. Tune in to Unite on ESPNU at midnight ET for live results from today's matchups!...The Emperor commands you to return tomorrow to vote in the next set of matchups. Do not disappoint him."
Star Wars is promoting the bracket to its 9.9 million Facebook fans and 370,000 Twitter followers. As of Thursday, the This is Madness site had 25,000 likes.
For its part, full-service restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse has created a more limited bracket featuring four of its appetizers. It is asking fans to vote for the starters they want to receive free.
Fans can vote by visiting Outback's TourneyTizer website and selecting their chosen appetizer. Two appetizers go head-to-head each week. As of Thursday, Coconut Shrimp had a sizeable lead over the Crab and Avocado Stack in the first matchup.
Starting March 26, fans can vote between Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie and Chicken Artichoke Flatbread.
On the third week, Outback says it will "surprise guests with a reprise of one of the previous winners."
The winning appetizer from each round will be offered free at Outback on the following Tuesday. According to the website, no coupon is necessary - fans simply mention TourneyTizer to receive the offer.
Outback is promoting the brackets to its 2.4 million Facebook fans and its 40,000 Twitter followers with #TourneyTizer.
Outback did not respond to a request for comment.
And then there's Cap'n Crunch cereal, which has created a Crunch Mayhem bracket.
Cap'n Crunch is asking its 267,000 Facebook fans to vote on eight varieties of the cereal, like Original versus Halloween Crunch and Crunch Berries versus Christmas Crunch.
"We chose Original and Crunch Berries as the #1 and #2 seeds based on their overall popularity, and the rest were based on general feelings of buzz on our social channels," says Pamela Finer, marketing manager at Quaker, which is Cap'n Crunch's parent.
Original, Oops! All Berries, PB Crunch, and Crunch Berries advanced after the first round on Tuesday. The championship round begins Friday. The winning cereal will be announced March 25, a Cap'n Crunch rep says.
Fans vote in polls on the Cap'n Crunch Facebook page. The rep says there were about 200 votes in the first round.
Cap'n Crunch is pushing the promotion to its 14,000 Twitter followers with #CrunchMayhem.
And while it is not asking fans to actually fill out brackets, Dunkin' Donuts posted a bracket-style photo on Twitter and Facebook with coffee and donuts.
In addition, some media brands are getting in on the bracket action.
On March 18, Southern California Public Radio posted its own challenge that pits 32 public radio shows against one another. Fans vote within the posts themselves.
Created by web producer/blogger Mike Roe, the original post says this bracket is listeners' chance to vote on their favorite shows like This American Life and Car Talk.
The first round closed March 20. Voting in Round 2 runs March 21 to 24. Roe has even retained March Madness lingo, saying the Elite 8 will start March 25 and the Final Four begins April 1. The results will be announced April 9.
"The tournament was roughly seeded, with higher-profile shows getting more prominent placement while shows that are smaller or newer ranked lower," Roe says.
The bracket includes almost every program on Roe's station, KPCC. He says it also has a Southern California focus with KPCC shows receiving higher seeds. Shows with a California focus or California talent were also featured.
"Beyond that, we also tried having a few interesting pairings in the first round, while also keeping some of the most popular powerhouse shows apart to potentially create matchups in the later rounds that will drive public radio fans nuts with indecision," he adds.
The challenge was meant to be a fun juxtaposition between the "normally reserved world of public radio" and a "battle to the death," but even Roe has been surprised by the passion it has inspired among voters and the resulting trash talk among shows.
As of Wednesday, the contest had received almost 200,000 votes, with the most popular matchup being This American Life versus Latino USA, with 15,185 votes.
"It's been successful for us online, but it was really more about doing something fun - and this is the type of fun that people who aren't fans of actual sports come up with," he says.
And, for the fourth year, Boston.com is conducting its Munch Madness tournament with 64 Boston-area restaurants split into Knife, Spoon, Fork, and Spork divisions. Boston.com says the restaurants are divided roughly between contestants from the previous year and new entrants.
"The pairings are the big thing. Some of the higher seeds were given the higher seeds because of past success, so maybe a 1 seed was a finalist or winner," says Doug Most, Boston Globe deputy managing editor of features. "But the bigger thing is trying to pair restaurants to avoid certain things. So if a restaurant chef owns two restaurants, we might pit those against each other early on, so they don't have two restaurants advancing further in."
Voting begins March 20 with the championship taking place March 30 to 31. The winner will be announced April 1.
As of Thursday, 101,000 votes had been cast, per the site. Last year, there were about 204,000 votes, Most says.
Boston.com is promoting the effort with #munchmadness on Twitter.
"The bracket tool was a natural way to engage our readers, let them vote, and let the restaurants try to stir up energy for their own battles," Most says.
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Lisa Lacy is senior staff writer at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
March 19, 2014