Making March Madness a Score for Your Brand

It's Not the Share of Game Time That Counts, but Consumers' Attention Online

By Published on .

March Madness is one of the biggest, best-marketed and most lucrative sporting events of the year. Emotions run high as Cinderella teams emerge, giants fall and hard-fought games come down to one nail-biting, last-minute shot. All this attention comes with a hefty price tag for advertisers: Kantar Media reports that marketers will spend nearly $1.5 million for a 30-second spot during the championship tonight.

That's significantly less than the $3.8 million they paid for a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl. But, unlike the Super Bowl, where attention is concentrated in a three- to four-hour window on a Sunday evening, March Madness commands attention from millions of passionate and dedicated viewers for weeks.

Much as with the Olympics and the World Cup, marketers struggle to take advantage of the extended time frame in one of the most powerful branding mediums available to them: online video. The challenge for many marketers is that they're coming off a massive Super Bowl video investment, which creates a second-quarter online video lull. But this also presents an opportunity for an intrepid marketer to fill the vacuum.

Opportunities extend across media and channels, as viewers complete online brackets, watch games live online, read recaps and engage with dedicated mobile sites and apps, in a constantly flowing online dialogue. For each one of these touch-points, brands have an opportunity to insert themselves into the conversation.

To become the marketing MVP of March Madness, it takes more than dominating share of voice through traditional media channels. With consumers being able to choose to engage with a brand at practically any time and any place, owning air time during the game isn't enough -- it's about owning share of choice. 

How do marketers capture share of choice?

Tell a Story. With three weeks of audience attention for March Madness, marketers have the opportunity to develop and tell a story that elicits viewer interest and gets them invested in the outcome of the story and the brand. They can leverage online channels to create a story arc that begins in the form of teasers, trailers and other videos in anticipation of March Madness, launch major story points on TV and across major publishers on the web and then provide added value with additional videos exclusive to the web, such as behind-the-scenes clips, outtakes, interviews and more.

Get a Head Start. Advertisers looking to build an audience and create buzz and anticipation for a major event like March Madness can benefit greatly by launching brand videos before the event begins. Visible Measures has conducted studies of video campaigns launched before major sporting events, versus those launched when the event starts. A majority of advertisers that released content prior to the game saw six times more reach online than those that didn't.

Get Off the Court. Not all March Madness action happens on the court. While student athletes are off limits to marketers, there are plenty of opportunities for marketers to tell the human side of story. P&G's Proud Sponsor of Mom's campaign features interviews with athletes and their moms that the company could run when the athlete won a medal or was competing in an event. Duracell ran an inspiring campaign during the NFL season featuring the hardships facing 49er Patrick Willis growing up. The opportunities are nearly endless to provide a timely and relevant way for brands to engage audiences over the course of the tournament.

The key is that marketers realize the complete value of March Madness as a brand-building opportunity to explore and promote, instead of an annual requirement to fill the airwaves with basketball-themed commercials. 

Seraj Bharwani is chief analytics officer at Visible Measures.
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