To celebrate March Madness, our team at Bates Creative came up with 64 of our favorite brands for our own tournament challenge. We chose brands that stand for something powerful, brands that have amazing design, and brands that create unique experiences. There were some obvious favorites, like Apple, Nike, and Amazon (two of which have been eliminated!), some surprises and locals (including our client, Atlas Brew Works), but overall, every “team” brought something unique and exciting through their brand.

Now we’re down to the Final Four after a few rounds of surprises and upsets (it is March Madness, after all!) and we’ll be crowning a champion in this blog!

Before you read the finale, be sure to check out part 1 and part 2, where we start with 64 teams and narrow it down to 32, Sweet 16, Elite 8, and now the Final Four.

Final Four

From our 64 brands, only four are left: Netflix, Patagonia, Nike, and Subaru. Each of these brands showcases what we at Bates Creative believe should be priorities for any brand:

  • Having a clear sense of your audience and why they choose your product or service,
  • Compelling and creative marketing content and campaigns,
  • Standing for something more powerful and meaningful than just your product or service, and
  • Great design, of course!

They each stand out in a few ways, as well: Netflix created a game-changing technology platform and pivoted into creating content as well; Patagonia is a leader in mission-driven business; Nike creates campaigns and loyalty based on ideas and identity more than their product; and Subaru understands its audiences and how to connect through emotion-driven marketing.

Matchup: Netflix vs. Patagonia

In our first semifinal, Netflix and Patagonia face off. Patagonia has created an incredible culture around its brand, moving into environmental activism, grant-making and grassroots initiatives, sourcing product lines from sustainable and eco-friendly raw materials, and creating a “Worn Wear” tour to repair old clothing and gear across the country. They also offer workplace benefits like on-site daycare and parental leave. Inside and out, Patagonia is a brand that understands its mission and values, and has implemented them to their fullest extent. By doing so, they create a cause behind their brand, and have become much more than a clothing and gear supplier: they are a leader in sustainable business and a voice in the environmental movement.

Netflix, meanwhile, has revolutionized how we consume content, and its competitors — from traditional broadcasters like CBS, to content creators like Disney — are moving to similar streaming services offering exclusive content to subscribers. But Netflix stands out, with consistently culture-defining content and an impressive user experience. The platform and user interface present an easy, streamlined, intuitive way to discover, explore, and consume content (sometimes too easily!). Netflix has revolutionized an industry and our culture, and even won an Oscar this year for Roma, redefining what is seen as a legitimate movie experience (Netflix argues it is making movies more accessible). From Stranger Things to The Crown, Netflix is creating cultural touchstones on a multi-device platform with a consistent brand experience throughout.

The sum total of this brand experience — across audiences and devices it has become a daily part of many people’s lives — and its impact on its industry (and even culture), make Netflix the winner in this matchup. The streaming superstar moves on to the championship.

Matchup: Nike vs. Subaru

To find out who will face Netflix in the championship, let’s look at Nike and Subaru, two consumer brands with huge followings and passionate customers.

(Full disclosure: I’m wearing Nike’s as I write this, and I drove to work this morning in a Subaru Forester)

Subaru and Nike have both created a clear audience identity for their customers: the power of the brand is that purchasing their product makes you feel like part of a group, with shared values and identity. For Subaru, the group identity revolves around being outdoorsy, adventurous, and conscious of issues like safety, cost, and environmental impact. Their marketing clearly reflects this knowledge and understanding of their audiences:

Part of Nike’s success also rests on their understanding of their audiences and the identity that customers experience when they make the consumer choice for Nike: cool, athletic, modern, and driven. Nike’s brand radiates inspiration, excitement, and aspiration.

Both of these companies make great products, have great design, and know how to connect emotionally with their target audiences.

But where Nike stands out is its connection to deeper, more meaningful issues. Nike is a leader in connecting to social causes, part of its creation of a strong customer identity: you feel loyalty to Nike because you feel like the brand shares your values, and purchasing Nike products could be a signal for your values and beliefs. From Serena Williams to Colin Kaepernick, Nike’s ad campaigns tap into social causes: women in sports, activism in sports, gender, race. And it works because it’s connected to Nike’s brand: “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” It feels authentic. It’s consistent.

Nike edges out Subaru in this regard: it’s consistent, bold campaigns seem broad, but actually reflect a core understanding of what the brand is, and who the audiences are. The result is perhaps the most powerful brand experience today.

Championship: Netflix vs. Nike

Our championship features Netflix and Nike, two brands with huge influences on our culture, our media, and our understanding of brands and content.

Nike has decades of history, a clear voice, and a powerful mission: “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” They add: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Nike also recently announced a “moonshot ambition” to double its business with half the environmental impact — continuing to extend the power of its brand by being true to its mission and giving its audiences something to believe in.

Both Netflix and Nike offer great products and design. Netflix’s platform is more disruptive and therefore has an edge over Nike’s online experience, but of course much of what Nike does is also in stores and through experiences.

We scored both Netflix and Nike using our brand evaluation system, and Nike did score higher — the biggest differences being the strength of their iconic logo and tagline, and the clarity and authenticity of their brand (you can recognize when something is from Nike, and everything they do remains very true to their core mission and brand focus).

Ultimately, the power of Nike’s brand, which has moved so far beyond sports to inspire people in every pursuit, to stand for bigger issues than sports, their captivating and emotional storytelling, and their product innovation and quality (which aligns with their mission statement: bringing innovation to every athlete in the world) make Nike our choice for the 2019 Brand Madness Champion. Nike has become so much more than a sports brand, and it shows — people consistently share, debate, and celebrate their ads and content.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series as we dove deep into 64 (!!) brands and what makes them special. As a big believer in the power of brands to connect with their audiences and inspire positive actions, connections, and conversations, it’s been exciting to explore new and familiar brands. My final takeaways: know your audiences on a deep, emotional level; define yourself clearly and authentically; and stand for something powerful and meaningful.

Share your thoughts with us on our champ, our tournament, and your brand on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!