Brands never know when an opportunity may present itself. That couldn’t have been more true for Sunoco during the 2023 March Madness NCAA Basketball tourney. The 100-year-old gas station brand’s moment came in the form of 6’ 9” UConn power forward Adama Sanogo. When broadcasting teams repeatedly mixed up Sanogo’s name with Sunoco’s brand name, it was a pop culture gift we knew we had to seize. We set out to boost brand awareness in light of this name slip-up, knowing there was one big thing standing in the way: Sanogo’s immigration status, which prevented him (as an international student) from capitalizing on the NIL deals domestic students were reveling in.
Not being deterred by Sanogo’s NIL hurdle, we needed a way to creatively game the system while March Madness teams marched to the final. Legally we couldn’t approach Adama – so instead, Sunoco cheered on the social sidelines as his “unofficial” superfan. We spread trending meme content across platforms to get the conversation going, while engaging fans on the ground with custom-made jerseys that placed Sanogo’s name into the iconic Sunoco diamond logo. Fans got fired up, and then everyone started to talk. And we knew, Sunoco would inevitably be confronted with the question, “Where’s the NIL deal?”
All the brand could do was stand back and take the heat, but that was indeed part of the broader plan – to resolve the entire conversation once Sanogo was no longer a student. As luck would have it, UConn went on to win the national championship, with Sanogo being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. Now the “official” fun could begin. We flew Adama down to the Bahamas – the only place he could legally work on his visa. There, we recorded video content with him – officially announcing our relationship with a signed collab jersey giveaway.
What followed? As they often say in sports, the crowd went wild.
The best part of capitalizing on an “in the moment” opportunity is any results that occur are quite simply icing on the cake. That was the case with Sunoco’s activation around the Sanogo name slip-up. As a result of the scrappy effort, Sunoco’s social engagement soared – boosting by 1,835%. But outside of the purely organic engagement the brand received – absolutely no media spend required – success came on an even bigger stage as well. Our activation highlighted the greater issue at hand, spurring bipartisan senators to join forces and propose legislation finally doing away with the law that disallows international students from capitalizing on the NIL craze.
And the craziest thing of all? This all went down over the course of three weeks. Despite all of the hurdles and roadblocks that could’ve taken down this impossible NIL deal, we were relentless in making it happen. Just as relentless as the man himself in pursuit of his school’s fifth national championship.