The Ins, Outs (and Brackets) of 2014 March Marketing Madness

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Vice President and Group Leader

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As March Madness kicks off this week, CBS is expected to broadcast the celebrated tournament to an audience of more than 140 million people.

As viewers gear up to fill out their brackets (audience engagement and March Madness go hand in hand) marketers are generating a creative frenzy second only to the Super Bowl. Last year, March Madness raked into $1.15 billion in ad revenue, with a 30 second championship spot running over $1.5 million.

While that number doesn’t quiet match up to the price tag of a Super Bowl ad (around $4 million for a 30 second spot), March Madness dwarfs the Super Bowl in overall revenue. The NFL’s biggest event brings in nearly $300 million for its one day event, but March Madness’ extended format nearly triples that figure.

When most people hear March Madness, they think brackets.  Quicken Loans has teamed with Warren Buffet to offer anybody with a perfect bracket $1 billion. CBS Local is taking a less pie-in-the-sky approach, providing local bracket challenges for major metro areas. Those picks don’t have to be perfect, just better than the next guy’s – much better odds than the 1 in 9.2 quintillion odds of a perfect bracket. We’re giving away some killer prizes for the College Basketball: a $2,500 Amex gift card for the winner; $1,500 gift card for second place; $1,000 gift card for third place; and $100 Amex gift card for each round by round winner. Players will also get the chance to compete against CBS Sports Radio personalities.

While 30 second TV spots are the bread and butter of Super Bowl marketing, March Madness offers an all kinds of new opportunities to reach audiences in unique ways. This year marketers are bringing a mix of tried-and-true experiential marketing tactics, innovative digital, master branding, and a few “quirkier” techniques. With 68 teams competing, marketers can truly live and breathe local, like Nike’s 2013 campaign that created beautiful visuals for each NCAA competitor school.

On the experiential front, Snyder’s of Hanover has launched its #boldestplay sweepstakes with the help of ESPN Radio. One grand prize winner will be shipped off the New York City in November to attend an ESPN College Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden. March Madness sponsors like Capital One are putting on a free, three-day concert in conjunction with the men’s finals. Pulling in talent like Tim McGraw and The Killers, each sponsor gets their time to shine with events like the “AT&T Block Party” and the “Capital One JamFest.”

Capital One’s overall cross-platform strategy is particularly noteworthy. Chris O’Neill, Capital One’s director of digital public relations campaigns, tells Fox:

“We go where the fans are… There are more channels and avenues for fans to get involved now. As the years progressed, there have been more opportunities to watch the games.”

As a result, Capitol One is heavily engaged on social media, using some beautiful imagery and #KaCHING to engage March Madness fans. Their traditional TV-spots are also being placed on streaming outlets to target fans who watch the games online. All of it seems to be working, Fox also reports that a recent survey found “37% of respondents correctly identified Capital One as the NCAA’s official credit card, outpacing all other sponsors.”

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Bud Light has taken branding to a whole new level, setting up a Bud Light hotel in Dallas.  A mainstay of their Super Bowl strategy, they’re trying the idea for March Madness in Dallas. As USA Today reports: “It will have live concerts and celebrity players, and it even will have Bud Light-branded signage, pillow cases, soaps and key cards.” Nike is also keen to take advantage of the branding opportunity. Currently engaged with Adidas in a branding war, Nike sponsors 76% of NCAA teams in the top 68. As Adweek reports, “Moreover, the No. 1 seeds are Florida, Virginia, Arizona and Wichita State—all four of which are Nike loyalists.”

March Madness brings an environment like no other for marketers. We here at Altitude because it embodies the CBS Radio mantra – local engagement on a national level. As the games continue, we can’t wait to see what marketers are planning to unroll as the men’s finals rolls near. In the meantime, we’ll be praying for our brackets like the rest of the country.