How Reese’s Made its NCAA Partnership an Omnichannel Slam Dunk

Reese's omnichannel approach, driven by its sales, marketing, and human insights teams, made its partnership with the NCAA a true slam dunk.
Photo credit: Reese's

Tasty snacks are non-negotiable for any successful sports-themed gathering. Six-foot subs, chips and chicken wings are staples; in fact, among the 39% of consumers who planned to participate in March Madness watch parties, half gravitated to these types of salty snacks — but 39% planned to indulge in candy and chocolate, according to Hershey’s Consumer Insights team.

As the NCAA’s Official Candy Partner for the past 16 years, Reese’s is a consumer favorite; more than half of NCAA basketball fans, about 30 million in total, also are Reese’s customers, according to Stephanie Berman, VP of Retail for The Hershey Company. The brand offered a full line-up of products and multiple pack types to complement on-the-go watching, casual viewing and big game-day parties to satiate customers’ hunger for delectable salty-and-sweet confections.

However, it was the brand’s omnichannel approach driven by its sales, marketing, and human insights teams that truly made the partnership a slam dunk. Tapping a combination of basketball-themed in-store displays, branded social campaigns and influencer partnerships, Reese’s was able to continue consumer buzz throughout the March Madness mini-season.

“We had the reach, but we wanted to capitalize on the consumer-driven insights to ensure we brought the activations to life in-store before the tournament and sustain them throughout the season,” Berman said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “There is a real richness to this partnership that leverages the strength of the Reese’s brand and its meaningful connection with our consumers — especially those in the sports arena. To advance this partnership every year, we continue to utilize data and insights to remain grounded with the consumer and co-create solutions with retailers.”

Rich consumer data and insights have helped the Reese’s brand double down on a 360-degree omnichannel approach, so that everything consumers saw on air during an NCAA game they also saw in-store and through digital channels — both through owned and partner platforms.


Another longtime pillar within the brand’s NCAA Strategy is Reese’s University, an initiative designed to engage consumers in fun social media activations, offers, experiences and even special branded merch. “We always have fun with Reese’s University; it’s something we love to play off of that still generates great engagement at the retail store level,” Berman noted.

Driving Fandom at the Store Level

Social media and other digital marketing channels help activate consumer interest when they are at home on their screens, but stores play a critical role in Reese’s initiatives that are connected to big “tent pole” marketing moments such as March Madness.

Berman leads a direct retail sales team of more than 1,200 people who are responsible for visiting retail outlets and ensuring the products’ price, promotion, and placement are executed to their standards and aligned with retailers’ goals. “We have high levels of communication collaboration between our account executives and my field team to ensure that in each and every call, we deliver retailers’ expectations,” she explained.

Reese's omnichannel approach, driven by its sales, marketing, and human insights teams, made its partnership with the NCAA a true slam dunk.
Reese’s University branded was integrated throughout critical decision moments in stores.
Photo credit: Reese’s

For March Madness specifically, Reese’s had NCAA activations in approximately 100,000 outlets across the U.S. that were decorated in a dynamic combination of danglers, standee displays, POS elements and more.

The special sauce of these in-store activations, according to Berman, is that Reese’s (and more broadly, Hershey) can tap into rich data sources to personalize their approach at the store level. “We can come up with meaningful solutions based on the store dynamics, the demographics and the consumers within that particular store. Our team can be more precise and prescriptive with our customers,” she explained.

As Reese’s implemented its NCAA activities in stores, the team was constantly able to identify best-selling items, flavors and product variations at the store level. Using these retailer insights, the brand worked to ensure it was presenting the right products in the most engaging ways in stores. “We’re able to use that localized and precise information to bring the Reese’s brand to life, but in a very meaningful way across every store,” said Berman.

Using AR and Image Recognition to Accelerate Speed to Market

Reese’s brought its physical marketing precision to new heights for its Reese’s Carmel Big Cup activation. The company developed advanced technology in-house that visually places digital mock-ups of displays in stores. Powered by augmented reality and image recognition, the technology empowers sales reps to work alongside store managers and show how in-store activations and displays will look in real time, making in-store marketing planning and execution easier and more profitable.

“My team was able to explain and showcase how we would bring this NCAA event to life in-store and create an experience that benefits consumers and helps retailers deliver more units and a highly engaging activation for our consumers,” Berman explained. “Our team can quickly show the optimal location for the display, gain alignment from store management, take photos to confirm the agreement and then execute the plan.

Augmented reality and computer vision made visualizing and executing in-store campaigns seamless. Photo credit: Reese’s

Digitizing this design and approval process allowed all parties to align on a central marketing mission and vision. The process was iterative, with reps showing retail partners visual mock-ups in real time so they had more creative power over the campaign execution. “It was all about co-creation and partnership to land on the best solution,” Berman said. Not only did this evolved approach create a more collaborative spirit among all parties, but it also helped bring activations to market faster.

Additionally, this evolved process also improved visibility within the Hershey organization, allowing the broader team to know not only where they were activating NCAA displays, but “even work cross-functionally to tap into some of our capabilities with human insights and with media,” Berman added. “That visibility — being able to see what’s happening in real-time — allowed us to deliver a better ROI across the organization.”

Reese’s plans to scale this technology based largely on the nearly 80% lift it saw in stores where it was used, according to Berman. “We were able to plan further ahead and get those displays on the floor faster; that was the big unlock we gleaned. We’re continuing to improve the technology and will leverage it for more big activations this year.”


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