(UPDATE: We're now giving away free Zebra Union Jack ballpoint pens on orders over £12.95. Check it out!)
We've been getting a laugh at the response from people on Twitter to the start of this week's College Basketball Invitational.
The basketball tournament – presented as an alternative for teams that didn't make it into March Madness – is sponsored by Zebra Pen in the US, where Zebra is not as well-known a name as, say, Pilot.
The general reaction to Zebra's sponsorship of the CBI has been like this one, from @twittsburgh: "...I seriously thought it was an animal pen."
OK, so for those of you who are curious, Zebra Pen is exactly what it sounds like, a company that makes ink pens, and quite good ones, at that. And yes, a few, but not nearly all, of the pens are striped.
According to the company, it was started in 1982 in New York as an offshoot of a Japanese import/export outfit called Zebra Co. It's now based in New Jersey.
Among the pens Zebra is known for:
F-301 - a steel ballpoint pen considered both a great go-to pen for everyday writing, as well as a good tactical pen for self defense. True story.
Surari - a hybrid gel-ballpoint ink pen that lays down smooth and consistent lines, similar to the popular Uniball Jetstream (but with a better-looking design).
As for how Zebra came to choose the CBI, the single-elimination tournament that culminates later this month in a best-of-three championship series, that's still not completely clear. We asked Zebra's PR team and received this response:
"We are proud to serve as the official title sponsor of the College Basketball Invitational," said Clem Restaino, president of Zebra Pen. "This is as great of an opportunity for Zebra Pen as it is for the 16 teams that will compete in this tournament. It will allow us to increase our brand awareness while helping these basketball programs gain the postseason experience necessary in their pursuit to win a national championship. We are looking forward to a great tournament," he said.
Presumably, by increasing 'brand awareness,' the company means two things:
One, sponsorship of the nationally televised CBI during the month of March, when college basketball fever grips millions in the US, will give the Zebra name huge exposure and spark conversations like those taking place on Twitter. And it will likely cost much less than advertising during some of the larger sporting events, such as the NCAA tournament or pro sports.
Two, college basketball means college students, and that means exposure in the youth market, which every pen company wants. It's the same reason that both Pentel and Uniball target students on Spring Break, to introduce them to their pens now and hopefully make loyal fans of them forever.
(This is not the first time a pen company has backed a sporting event. Pilot Pen sponsors a youth badminton tournament in Singapore and, for years, also sponsored a tennis tournament called the Pilot Pen International in the US.)
According to Zebra, the CBI, broadcast on Mark Cuban's HDNet, will reach 23 million homes. That's a lot of brand awareness, and a lot of people on Twitter asking, as did @thesportsjudge, "...what the &^%$ is Zebra Pen?'
Meanwhile, Zebra is making other moves this year in an effort to gain wider recognition.
The Olympic Games will take place in London this summer, and so will Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, celebrating 60 years on the throne. To help promote a little British pride as part of those events, Zebra has released the limited edition Union Jack Z-Grip pens that you've seen in our March giveaway.
We like Zebra pens, obviously, and we know many of our readers do, too, so we're looking forward to seeing what else they get up to this year.
(By the way, those Union Jack pens? Keep an eye on our website. Zebra is giving us a supply of them to pass on to our customers for free on all orders over £12.95.)