March Madness: Brands Make a Racket as Fans Pick Their Brackets

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NCAA March Madness 2016

Now that it’s logged its first significant stunning upset (Yale over Baylor, anyone?) and fan excitement is building, March Madness already is starting to pay off for the growing—and increasingly diverse—roster of brands that have hitched their short-term marketing plans to advertising on US TV and in associated digital campaigns on the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament.

Some things are different about the tournament and the telecasts this year; for example, there’s no clear, clear favorite to win for the first time in a while. And when it comes to the games on TV, for the first time in its 78-year history the finals will be broadcast on a cable network, TBS, rather than on the grand stage of the CBS Network where the championship has resided for many years.

NCAA 2016 sponsors March Madness

Either way, Turner and CBS are on track to exceed last year’s $1.19 billion in ad revenue, which followed the NFL playoffs at $1.25 billion, according to Kantar Media. Turner Sports signed a multi-year deal with Snapchat last week which will feature Snapchat creating its “Live Story” for games and events that Turner Sports covers, beginning with March Madness.

But the appeal of the games, and the fact that in the early rounds they run from late morning through evening on weekdays as well as weekends, means that there will be $1.3 billion in lost productivity among employees (cue the “boss button” and viewing options such as DISH Network’s multichannel viewing) who will watch the games wherever they are, according to estimates by out-of-home media company Captivate.

As Nike captures the frenzy with the Kyrie Irving Duke sneaker, here’s what other brands are up to this March Madness, starting with NCAA sponsors:


Allstate March Madness 2016 Mayhem

In addition to new Mayhem ads, Snapchat messaging and real-time tweets, Allstate‘s fourth annual March Mayhem™ Challenge with Dick Vitale invites astronaut Buzz Aldrin to pick his very first bracket ever against one of the most respected and knowledgeable basketball analysts to predict the on-the-court action.

“Statistically speaking, you are more likely to become an astronaut than pick a perfect bracket, so while Buzz’s college basketball knowledge may not be as vast as Dick’s, he’s no stranger to beating the odds,” said Pam Hollander, VP of marketing for Allstate Insurance Company. “Dick knows the game, but Buzz will have the Mayhem Bracket Predictor tool to rely on for probability and insights to crack the tournament code. It’s the perfect illustration that life can be unpredictable, so being prepared for mayhem is a necessity for the uncertainties that no doubt will happen.”


Amazon (sponsor) is promoting Echo throughout the series:


AT&T (an NCAA sponsor) is promoting streaming on its network including DirecTV in ads featuring Anthony Michael Hall and Kenny Smith:


Buffalo Wild Wings (sponsor) is in full March Madness mode:


Buick (sponsor) is tweeting with the hashtag #BracketBuster and advertising on CBSSports.com with the tagline “March Madness Redefined.”

NCAA March Madness Buick 2016


Capital One (an NCAA top-tier “corporate champion” sponsor) features Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee (who directed the ads) in “The Road to the Final Four”:


Coca-Cola (sponsor) is busy tweeting as Coca-Cola Zero advertises on CBSSports.com‘s March Madness coverage.

CBS Sports March Madness 2016 Coca-Cola Zero


Enterprise Rent-a-Car (sponsor) is running TV spots such as “Any Open Man” (“NCAA® March Madness® prompts Liz’s mom to tell her to find the open man. Literally. Luckily, Liz knows Enterprise can pick her up. And away.”) along with feel-good digital-only storytelling:


Infiniti (sponsor) is backing the Coaches vs. Cancer® Hardwood Heroes event: 14 cancer survivors are teaming up with 2 NCAA® coaches playing to beat cancer at the Final Four®.


LG (sponsor) is dusting off its Liam Neeson “Man From the Future” Super Bowl spot along with an online series featuring ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas. Here, he’s “LG’s Game Day Color Commentator (and) shares some fascinating, never-before-released March Madness stats and reveals which team colors are likely to win the most championship games! We’ve done the number crunching to find out if your favorite team’s colors just might be the predictor of the unpredictable. Gold? Purple? Blue? Green? Red? Black? Orange? White? LG makes it easier than ever to kick back, relax and enjoy the madness. See what the numbers say about your favorite college team and Do Game Day Right™ with LG, the official corporate sponsor of the NCAA®.” LG also partnered with the Houston Local Organizing Committee (HLOC) to promote environmental sustainability, tipping off on Selection Sunday with a local e-waste recycling drive.


Lowe’s (sponsor) also has chosen the men’s tournament as the jumping-off point for a new campaign which leverages humor under the rubric “Make Your Home Happy.” The campaign brings inanimate objects such as magnet and lawn ornaments to life, with one spot featuring a unicorn regretting that is “tiny unicorn legs” don’t get him a better view of the lush lawn he occupies. The campaign “provides reasons to believe, proof points, about how Lowe’s demonstrates its passion around helping consumers bring their visions to life,” Lowe’s CMO Marci Grebstein told Ad Age.


Also a sponsor, Microsoft and the NCAA struck a comprehensive partnership to provide college basketball fans with the ultimate March Madness bracket experience along with a new Windows 10 NCAA app. As an official corporate partner, Bing is the Official Bracketologist of the NCAA for the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship and will leverage over a decade of extensive NCAA statistical data to help inform an immersive bracket experience complete with Bing Predicts data and matchup analysis. The bracket will be made available online after Selection Sunday™, on Bing.com and NCAA.com.


Northwestern Mutual (sponsor) promotes why its shared values with the NCAA make it a great place to work for college athletes: “good sportsmanship, teamwork, the love of competition, and the desire to win all have a place beyond the buzzer. Find out what makes Northwestern Mutual the ideal post-season for student-athletes.”


Reese’s (sponsor) is the official candy partner of NCAA Basketball. Its message: “Tearing up your bracket is just practice for tearing open a REESE’S.”


Sponsor Unilever‘s Dove Men+Care “Bonds of Real Strength” campaign celebrates deep friendships between basketball coaches “such as Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie throughout the tournament broadcasts to show the caring relationships that strengthen men today.”


UPS (sponsor) is running a campaign under the banner of “Expectations”: “Who are you rooting for this March? For Dylan, choosing the right team can be the difference between winning and losing a crazy wager with his buddies. So finding the right gear, lucky gear, is key. From bobbleheads to t-shirts to oversized chicken suits to whatever needs to be sent back, if it’s not working out, UPS offers a new generation of tools that make returning as easy as buying. Another way we’re helping companies solve for today’s customer expectations.”


Among non-NCAA sponsors,

Audi is using March Madness as the platform for the very crucial marketing launch of a broadly overhauled new version of the A4 sedan, its bread-and-butter nameplate that helped the German luxury brand achieve a huge jump in equity and sales over the last several years. The campaign has a cerebral bent and pitches the redesigned A4 as the choice for intelligent car shoppers.


Bud Light takes a break from politics by turning Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen loose on a game:


Kia is choosing brackets in #MarchMatchups Twitter campaign:


CDW is launching a new campaign (called “Orchestration by CDW”) that, for the first time since 2012, doesn’t use NBA and broadcast analyst icon Charles Barkley. “CDW is a global company,” Dean Lamb, director of marketing, told Ad Age about the IT services company, “and we wanted to be able to tell more broadly some of the stories not just about the IT department, but about retail, healthcare and education. The objective of this campaign is really around a repositioning” of CDW as “a conductor of IT orchestration.”


ESPN isn’t going to miss the occasion to play to one of sport’s biggest TV audiences and is featuring a new ad that stars golf sensation Justin Spieth, sitting in the network’s famous “cafeteria” at Connecticut headquarters, and trying to decide (with the rapt advice of his caddie) whether to eat pasta with a spoon or a fork. (Among other things, the spot is reminiscent of the classic ESPN Sports Center ad in which network anchors look on in awe as the real Arnold Palmar makes an Arnold Palmer iced tea-lemonade split before their very eyes.)


Harley-Davidson is capitalizing on March Madness to launch its big new advertising campaign, aiming squarely at the huge contingent of viewers who are in the motorcycle brand’s upscale-male-35-and-older sweet spot.


Miller Lite, that long-time heavyweight denizen of sports-event advertising, launched a new ad campaign to coincide with March Madness called “Spelled Different, Because It’s Brewed Different.” The effort highlights the brand’s authentic history as the beer that created the light-beer category, which allows it to do things differently, including the spelling of “L-I-T-E.” It’s meant to attack the “growing stereotypes and misperceptions that all light beers are generic,” the company said.


Realtor.com has a new ad (and research) starring actress/director Elizabeth Banks:


Interestingly, for the first time March Madness may have become a powerful enough platform that it is prompting Super Bowl-like thinking by smaller brands such as Insureon, a Chicag0-based online insurance provider, has chosen the tournament to launch its first national TV ad, “Choose Easy,” fresh off last year’s $31 million round of investment funding.

“We felt that the NCAA tournament was a great option because it has a very mixed audience,” Andrei Utkin, CMO of the startup that lets small businesses compare quotes and buy insurance, told ChicagoInno.Streetwise.com. The company will advertise throughout the tourney via DirecTV. “It’s watched by men and women. It’s watched by young and old. It’s watched across the country. It spans a lot of diversity tiers, if you will, in terms of readership.”


One of the more curious advertisers will be none other than the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which will launch ads during March Madness promoting the SEC’s Investor.gov financial consultant background checks by consumers and investors. The multimedia PSA campaign warns Americans to delve into the backgrounds of people purporting to be investment advisers.

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