Google Cloud Begins First Ad Push With NCAA March Madness

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Google, which recently announced a multiyear sponsorship deal making it "The Official Cloud of the NCAA," has begun the first ad campaign for its cloud computing product with commercials in March Madness coverage.

Google Cloud already serves powerhouse companies such as Apple, Snapchat, Spotify and Coca-Cola, but it's hoping to expand by taking complex topics such as cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence and make them relatable to a wider audience.

Questions such as "Do players dunk more if they have 50,000 followers?" and "Are math majors better at analyzing the court?" are featured in two 30-second spots created by San Francisco-based agency Eleven, says Alison Wagonfeld, VP of marketing at Google Cloud.

"We think it is important to demystify data analytics and machine learning," Wagonfeld says. "One of the best ways to demystify the complexity is to use examples that are relatable. And the NCAA has so many examples that are relatable."

The NCAA has a treasure trove of data that dates back several decades. But finding answers to simple questions like, "Are players shooting more three pointers today versus five years ago?" would require someone to individually look at some 20,000 games to find the answer. With Cloud, it would take minutes. (The answer: they do.)

"We want people from this campaign to think about all the data they have and ask questions, and know that Google Cloud can help them find answers," Wagonfeld says. "You can even think about it more broadly: 'What kind of data does my company have and If I had better data, would I be able to run my company more effectively?'"

Google Cloud will also use AI to create several additional 15-second spots at the start of the second half during the Final Four. The activation will specifically use Google technology and NCAA historically data to create real-time ads that attempt to answer questions such as whether the game might "come down to the wire."

"The Wolfpack"

The company has put together a team of rabid basketball fans and data scientists it's dubbed "The Wolfpack." This team will also provide questions like "What mascots have the most Final Four appearances: cats or dogs?" for Google Cloud to surface on social media. It will also be responsible for all data analyzing behind the scenes and better inform Google as its marketing campaign expands in the future.

"This is a multiyear partnership that we started with the NCAA during March Madness, but we'll look at other sports and other factors," Wagonfeld says. "We're looking at working with universities around nutrition and concussions and how schools can help students be the best athletes they can be. We're just in the early stages."

Wagonfeld says Google Cloud chose the NCAA because it allows the company to reach massive amounts of people included in its target audience, which include chief information officers, IT decision makers, students and developers, among others. "This ad campaign represents a unique show versus tell awareness opportunity," Wagonfeld says.

In February, Google said its Cloud business was for the first time generating revenue of at least $1 billion per quarter. While promising, that's still far behind Amazon ($5 billion per quarter) and Microsoft's Azure (not easily directly comparable, but even higher).

Still, Google Cloud is rapidly growing. The company says its cloud business is one of fastest-growing across all of Alphabet and also the No. 1 fastest growing cloud business overall in the entire market.

It also feels its pedigree will ultimately help it win out.

"Think about Google's [core] mission: Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," Wagonfeld says. "We are really excited about how this campaign specifically ties directly with Google's own mission."

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