Brands scramble to change ad plans after March Madness canceled
Brands that had big March Madness ad plans are scrambling to adjust their marketing after the NCCA on Thursday canceled the three-week tournament due to the coronavirus outbreak. The event, set to air across the networks of CBS and Turner Sports, is a major spring showcase for brands in a host of categories—including beer, automotive, insurance, telcom, fast food and financial services—that have plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into the tourney.
Corona, which normally sits out March Madness, was buying in the event this year in hopes of extending the beer’s reach “outside of our core 120 days of summer,” John Alvarado, senior VP of brand marketing for the beer division of brand owner Constellation Brands, recently told Ad Age.
Corona’s basketball-themed ads feature former National Basketball Association star Kenny Smith, and plug into the fan telephone “hotline” approach it has used in football for years. Asked about how it will adjust, a spokeswoman said: “We will continue to invest in the brand, and are looking at where those dollars will be best served.” But with the NBA season now suspended—Corona’s ads were already running in pro games—there are not many options for contextual hoops-themed creative.
Coca-Cola, which is a major NCAA sponsor, had planned to make a major push on Cherry Vanilla Coke during the tourney broadcast, but will now have to find another place for those ads. “Our teams are rethinking all aspects of our plans,” a Coke spokeswoman said in a statement, adding that “we fully respect the NCAA president’s decision to cancel this year’s tournament.”
The tourney was also a major platform for Coors Light and part of its plan to boost March media spending by 20 percent from 2019. Before March Madness was canceled the Molson Coors brew had already been forced to rethink its basketball-themed creative. It opted not to run a planned spot from DDB called the “Official Beer of ‘Working’ Remotely” because the line—designed to play into the notion that people stay at home to watch hoops—was deemed insensitive as more people are forced to remain home because of the coronavirus. The brewer was going to replace it with product-focused ads that must now run elsewhere.
Another brewer forced to rethink its plans is Heineken USA, which was planning to use the tourney to push a new campaign for Dos Equis, called “The Interesting Beer for Interesting Times.”
Beyond TV, brands had plenty of on-the-ground marketing planned that was designed to take advantage of traffic to sports bars which, in a normal year, enjoy a flood of early visitors for games that tip off in the afternoon. For instance, Buffalo Wild Wings had its version of a B&B planned for a restaurant in Chicago, with a contest for people to win a night’s stay March 19 at the BnB-Dubs.
The space was set to include bunk beds, ceiling-mounted flatscreens and, of course, access to wings. A website plugging the promotion was still live as of Thursday evening, including the line: “You don’t have to go home, and you can stay here”—a message that hardly resonates with millions of people hunkered down in their homes as the virus spreads. A representative for the company did not immediately return a request for comment.
Contributing: Jessica Wohl