Marketing’s Big Dance: How Brands are Capitalizing on March Madness

Fast pace. Cinderella stories. Angst. Heartbreak.

If you work in marketing, you might think I’m describing the industry landscape. But I’m talking March Madness — the tournament that captivates the hearts and minds of the nation every spring, and gives marketers the chance to engage with their audiences in new ways.

March Madness is the ultimate illustration of the heady times marketers are trying to navigate today. For example, thanks to the internet and smartphones, March Madness viewers no longer have to hunker down in front of their TVs to catch the latest games and update their brackets. The Wall Street Journal reports that 11 million hours of live-streamed games were viewed in the first week of this year’s tournament.

And even for fans who aren’t watching the Final Four at the office while pretending to work, it’s virtually impossible to ignore who’s winning and losing thanks to buzz from digital communities, social channels, and apps that provide on-demand updates — like The March Madness Live App, NCAA’s March Madness Fan Zone, or ESPN’s Tournament Challenge. In short, technology has forever changed the way people experience March Madness, allowing fans to keep up wherever they want, whenever they want.

Marketers certainly have caught on to the craze. Kantar Media — which coined the term “Marketing Madness” — estimates that last year’s event brought in $1.13 billion in ad dollars, and about $7.5 billion in the last decade. Dove, PizzaHut, GoPro, Kia, and Capital One are just some of the brands that have created campaigns around this year’s tournament, all hoping to capitalize on the buzz.

So what separates the winners and losers in full-court marketing? Which brands will have campaigns that win the hearts and minds of fans as much as much as the Spartans or Badgers have? (Go Big Ten!)

The ones that will win after the net has been cut all have a few key things in common:

  • They recognize that their customers are on a journey, experiencing March Madness across all kinds of online and offline channels.
  • They have achieved a single view of these customers across every channel, to understand what they like, what they’ve done before, and what they’re looking for now.
  • They keep up with their customers with consistent, relevant, real-time dialogue.

Which cross-channel campaigns are we tracking in our Marketing Madness brackets?

  • Infiniti’s March Madness campaign includes a sponsorship of the March Madness Live Android app, a Round by Round online microsite and contest, and an Infiniti Lounge near the Final Four venue in downtown Indianapolis. The auto brand’s 2014 campaign paid off – the company reported that its March 2014 online search traffic rose 25 percent thanks to tournament-related marketing.
  • AllState’s popular “Mayhem” character is front and center in their March Madness campaign for the third year in a row. The brand created a Mayhem Madness microsite, invested in advertising on Turner networks and CBS, and has the “Good Hands Play of the Game” features running throughout the tournament.
  • Buffalo Wild Wings is getting major mileage as the “official hangout for March Madness” with a #WingWisdom campaign that plays out via social channels and through a series of 8 TV advertisements that are also posted on the brand’s YouTube page.

An estimated 20 million people will watch the final tournament game tonight. And the companies that understand the customer journey and can resolve identity across channels will be the ultimate bracket busters.

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Originally published April 06, 2015

Kari Brownsberger

Senior Director, Integrated Communications

Kari Brownsberger is the former Senior Director, Integrated Communications at Signal. Prior to Signal, Kari worked in the PR agency world, specializing in marketing technology. She is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago and originally from Ohio.

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