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Toyota Green Initiative Team: Lt to rt Ron Everline, Tracy Anderson, Yoli Ouiya, Stephen Graddick IV, and Alexandra Elle (Photo credit: Steed Media Service)

The CIAA Basketball Tournament represents the third largest NCAA basketball tournament in the nation, reaching over 200K fans yearly, with an economic impact that exceeded $55 million in 2015. The mass of fans that participate, as well as the emphasis on education and HBCUs specifically, make it a treasure trove for brands looking to drive brand awareness and affinity.

Rolling out tapped into a number of brand activations to learn more about how these companies leveraged the CIAA platform to communicate with a segment of their target audience. Toyota, a brand that consistently invests in multicultural events throughout the nation, continued to support their “Toyota Green” initiative, a platform that encourages HBCU students to make a difference by teaching and encouraging sustainability.

Executed by agencies Burrell Communications and NCompass, the Toyota booth included vehicle and booth displays, as well as celebrity guests that included celebrity fitness trainer Ron Everline and Lance Gross. Everline hosted fitness activities that included knowledge acquisition activities, while Gross, a long-time Toyota Green initiative supporter, joined with green expert Yoli Ouiya to make healthy tacos and sample healthy products with tournament goers.

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Lance Gross and Alexandra Elle host DIY workshop with Toyota Green fans (Photo credit: Steed Media Service)

Lowes, an industry leading retail home improvement chain, used the platform to encourage community and togetherness. The Lowes’ booth was set up like a backyard barbecue with a wooden deck, picnic tables, and soul music playing. As Lowes’ marketing manager Greg Curry stated, “Lowes wants to give you the feeling of one big family reunion.” It’s pretty easy to see how nearly every single thing used to create the perfect family reunion could be purchased at Lowes.

Insurance giant Nationwide used the weekend to focus on empowerment and knowledge acquisition. In addition to a cool booth and tons of fun life readiness activities, Nationwide hosts an annual empowerment brunch that has become an extremely popular launch initiative for CIAA. Kimberly Blackwell and Chevonne Harris of the PMM Agency have taken the empowerment luncheon from a 30 person event at Morton’s Steakhouse, to a 300 person event at the Westin Hotel. This year featured CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams.

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CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams speaks at Nationwide Empowerment Luncheon (Photo credit: Steed Media Service)

Rolling out also stopped by the Novant Health booth, where screenings were being administered for diabetes, HIV and a number of other ailments and chronic diseases. Spokesperson Tenisha Waldo shared that Novant Health had screened over 600 fans during last year’s tournament. Novant Health, whose facilities can be found in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, is also a major sponsor of Time Warner Cable Arena where the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets play.

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Grazell Howard of King & Kairos, Inc.; Dr. Adam Spitz, Novant Health Endocrinology; Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, senior vice president of community wellness and education, Novant Health; Dr. Marcus Plescia of the Mecklenburg County Health Department; and Dr. Sherry Ryter-Brown, Novant Health Health Pineview Family Medicine (Photo credit: Steed Media Service)

McDonald’s, another long time CIAA and HBCU supporter, hosted booths at both the Charlotte Convention Center and Time Warner Arena and used the platform to launch their McPick2 for $5 promotion, which affords customers the opportunity to combine two of their classic menu items (Big Mac, crispy 10 piece Chicken McNuggets, Filet-O-Fish, and the Quarter Pounder with Cheese) for $5 for the first time in the company’s history. McDonald’s executed through a series of prize offerings, giveaways, dance competitions, social media walls, and much more. Burrell Communications and Walton Isaacson combined to produce this activation, as well.

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McDonald’s team engaging fans at CIAA. (Photo credit: Steed Media Service)

Natural hair care company Taliah Waajid used the CIAA platform to both sell products and sample their “Lock It Up” tight hold gel. The number of female fans attending the CIAA tournament has reached upwards of 70% in years past, so leveraging this platform for hair care products is an ingenious idea, especially one week following the major Bronner Bros. hair show in Atlanta.

In a marketplace that has demonstrated an overall decrease in direct efforts to reach predominately multicultural audiences, it’s awesome to see brands who continue to demonstrate that they understand the value of both investing in and engaging the African American consumer. AARP, Coors, Army, Marines, and many others were among the major brands represented during the CIAA basketball tournament weekend.

Check out more photos in the gallery.

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Terrance Pratt

Brand Strategist and arts evangelist. Catch me on IG @tpratt111