March 07, 2018 @ 12:00am

Every March, college basketball teams across the country get ready to enter the 64 team, winner-takes-all scrum we call “March Madness.” By now, it’s ritual: Bosses and managers across the nation can expect right around four billion dollars in lost worker productivity, with employees filling out brackets, trash talking and talking shop on social media (63 million engagements in 2017, and that’s only tournament-specific handles), checking in on tournament progress online and otherwise giving in to the “madness.”

The tournament is big bucks: As a country, we’ll bet over ten billion dollars on the games and, of course, advertisers will spend billions trying to ride the wave of team pride and curiosity that carries us all the way to the Final Four and beyond. In fact, March Madness has become somewhat of a proving ground for new ideas about advertising. Let’s take a look at three ways advertisers leverage the tournament to make a big brand impact.

Break Up the Monotony

March Madness didn’t invent the episodic commercial, but it sure proves its necessity. Unlike the Super Bowl, March Madness is stretched out over dozens of games, with dozens of commercial breaks per game. That means television advertisers have a choice: Either create entertaining content that plays out over multiple spots or risk infuriating fans who’re stuck seeing the same spot, over and over.

Capital One chose to tell a story. Their spots—featuring Samuel L. Jackson, Charles Barkley and Spike Lee—tell the sometimes-funny story of three men trying to make it to the championship game. Here’s one of the standouts in the series that uses a pretty cheap pun to make a fun pop culture reference.

What can we learn from this spot? Context is everything. As an advertiser, Capital One knew their ads would appear with an almost numbing frequency over the course of the tournament. So, they decided to make spots that are individually entertaining, but also join together to tell a larger story. It’s not the Iliad, but it provides viewers with a taste of variety, especially when you consider Capital One’s spots in the context of the other ads running during March Madness. In other words, if your competition is running the same-old-same-old, look for ways to make your message stand out.

Know Your Audience

NCAA regulations prevent advertisers from showing the athletes playing in March Madness, so advertisers have to get creative with how they utilize the tournament. One Oregon vasectomy clinic hit the nail on the head with their “Lower Your Seed” campaign.

On its face, it seems like a sophomoric, crude joke, the kind of thing teens chuckle at under their breath. (“Ha, ha. They said ‘seed.’”) Here’s what the spots sound like:

When you get past the cheap joke, though, you find a piece of marketing that dovetails perfectly into its targets needs and wants. The ad basically makes the argument that, if you get a vasectomy right before March Madness, you’ll be couch-bound for a few days as you heal, meaning, sigh, I guess you’ll just have to put your feet up and watch every game.

This spot was, especially given the original ad buy, explosively successful. In fact, today, the national rate for vasectomies jumps over 30% on the first day of March Madness. Dozens of clinics have cashed in on the Oregon Clinic’s idea. Crude as it is, it’s also true to their audience and makes a procedure that can present real challenges to a man’s sense of self seem much more approachable and, yeah, useful.

This is not to say that women don’t watch the tournament; that’s just wrong. But the lesson here is understand your core target and create messaging that speaks directly to them. You don’t have to reach everyone.

Stay Mobile

One of the greatest parts about March Madness are the upsets, the buzzer-beating final shots and floor-rushing celebrations. It’s the very “nowness” of the tournament that makes it so compelling: One shot could send a Cinderella team to the next round or sink one of the favorites to win it all. Obviously, television—with long production times—can’t hope to capitalize on that part of the tournament. Social media, however, was designed to do just that.

Reese’s, as the official candy sponsor of the tournament, has done an incredible job of producing fast-moving, engaging content, often reacting in almost real time with fun, informed ads. The spots don’t exactly show a deep basketball IQ, but they’re very relatable, celebrating successes and all the excitement behind March Madness. The end result was over 260,000 engagements on Facebook alone.

Reese’s real success, beyond dominating social media during the tourney, was in staying flexible in their executions, but also remarkably on-brand. Even as they thought on their feet while reacting to the tourney’s results, they amplified their own brand values and gave people a new, fun way to engage, going beyond the typical brackets and basketball.

At 6AM, we’re a little bummed that our Wisconsin Badgers won’t be making a run this year, but at least we have brackets and new commercials to look forward to.

About the author: IanM

Micah Riecker has been 6AM Marketing's Copy Jedi and Chief Wordsmith since June of 2016. A graduate of Knox College, the University of Illinois and Madison College, he specializes in using copy to wake up tired advertising concepts.

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