March Madness: Harnessing the Power of Overnight Success

As Loyola University Chicago’s Donte Ingram released his potential game-winning 3-pointer in the Ramblers’ 2018 first-round NCAA tournament matchup against the 6-seeded Miami Hurricanes, college basketball fans across the country watched in anticipation: would the shot fall short, sending the Hurricanes into the tournament’s Round of 32, or would it swish through the net, ringing in the first upset of March Madness?

As Ingram’s shot connected and the buzzer sounded to finalize the game’s results, Loyola’s time in the national spotlight officially began. In a matter of seconds, tweets, articles and media mentions poured in from across the sports world as the Ramblers became the tournament’s first-round sensations. Even former president Barack Obama took notice, tweeting out a note of congratulations to his millions of followers.

By now, you likely know how this story ends: Loyola would follow its last-second win over Miami with a string of victories that would carry the team all the way to the sport’s sought-after honor – a trip to the Final Four. Loyola would fall in the national semifinals, but to end the story there would be to miss the point. Because, over the course of a couple of weeks and a few buzzer beaters, the school won perhaps a more significant victory than hoisting the National Championship trophy: gaining the undivided attention of college basketball fans, the sports industry and, astonishingly, the country at large.

So, how did Loyola University Chicago leverage a few college basketball victories to push its brand into the national conversation? For marketers, the question is worth exploring, because – as you’ll see – it pays to be prepared for your time in the spotlight.

The Flutie Effect

In 1984, Boston College had its own defining moment when quarterback Doug Flutie completed a game-winning, 65-yard pass to Gerard Phelan to seal his team’s improbable victory over – once again – the Miami Hurricanes. The phenomenon of the play’s subsequent, positive impact on the school’s mission at large, including a 30 percent increase in applications in two years, would be coined “the Flutie Effect,” a term that lives on in 2019.

Loyola’s time in the spotlight proved no exception to this rule. Requests to the school for more information from students seeking admission rose 31 percent from March 1 to April 2; first-time visitors made up 91 percent of the school’s website traffic; athletic donations rose 660 percent; and Loyola’s social media channels saw a significant spike in followers (34 percent) and engagement (1,676 percent).

While the Flutie Effect speaks to the impact that college athletics can have on its institution, the principles remain the same when applied to other industries. Remember the internet’s 2015 debate over The Dress? After a Twitter user posted a photo of a dress that appeared blue-and black to some, white-and-gold to others, the internet was abuzz with the question, “What color is this dress?” Overnight, UK fashion brand Roman Originals had the (fortunate) challenge of deciding how to effectively – and quickly – respond. The company managed the exposure well, and even auctioned off a white and gold version of the dress with the hashtag, #BidTheDress and utilized #TheDress as a discount code at checkout.

Whether schools, retail brands or somewhere in between, it is vital to understand the impact that unexpected, outlier moments can have on your company’s future.

When the unexpected happens – and it will happen

A Chicago Tribune article reveals that Loyola officials were taking quick action during the schools tournament run, determined to ensure their time in the national spotlight would extend beyond the madness of March. Although the long-term impact is yet to be determined, Loyola’s commitment to proactively capitalizing on their team’s success is an important lesson in real-time decision-making for organizations across any industry.

In the early 2000’s, leaders at the tech company Odeo were faced with a similar scenario as Loyola officials: how to respond to rapidly changing external events that would almost inevitably impact the company’s business model and bottom line. Soon after Odeo was founded as an audio-messaging platform, the company was shaken by a major announcement: Apple would roll out podcast capabilities on their wildly popular tech devices. Odeo leaders were forced into a crucial decision: continue to push their platform in hopes of competing with Apple or reassess their model and choose a new, more strategic direction.

Aware of the all-but-inevitable result of a tech showdown with Apple, Odeo’s leaders wisely charged employees to brainstorm alternatives. The result? A team that collectively created and executed a social media platform designed for users to share real-time status updates.

The platform’s name? Twttr. Or, as we know it today, Twitter.

From Loyola to Odeo, the lesson is the same – while it is important to be prepared for any marketing scenario, sometimes the unexpected happens.

Own your moment

When visiting Loyola’s website, it won’t take long to find evidence of the school’s run to the Final Four. It is a primary component of the site’s “About” page, and the school’s archives is requesting for all involved with the events to submit their memories for collection. The impact of the Ramblers’ accomplishments in March 2018 is set to positively impact the school for years to come because the university quickly embraced their moment in the spotlight.

Roman Originals and Odeo were equally willing and adept at taking advantage of the marketplace reaction. Their brands’ success stories would not exist if not for their willingness to own their moment, whether that meant strategically managing overnight success or making key business decisions for the company’s future.


What Loyola, Roman Originals and Odeo have in common is a keen understanding of their place in the market, and a recognition of how and readiness to capitalize on overnight success. If your brand can follow these examples, you too can take advantage of your own Loyola Moment.

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