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Marketing Madness: It's all about growing the 'fan base'

Basketball fan or not, every March, you find yourself filling out an NCAA March Madness Bracket. A bracket that tells you how wrong you are, consistently, for two weeks. But for some reason, we still think we have the Final Four figured out. Who cares if our bracket was busted right after opening
tip-off; we still have and will share our opinions. Why is this?

March Madness plays on emotions. According to NPR, It’s almost impossible to complete a pristine bracket; the odds are actually 1 in 9.2 quintillion. So why do so many people still participate?

The tournament provides compelling storytelling; some love the Cinderella ones, while others follow the tales of honoring the traditions of their schools. And, somewhere in between, brands have repeated opportunities, using every platform at their disposal, to create dynamic engagement and create stories of their own.

This year, it seemed that there was a theme: Grow the existing fan base. Advertisers developed content-specific messages for the madness, connecting and creating opportunities to share and use social mediums to amplify the conversation. Per usual, the fans saw fresh campaigns from the triad of NCAA corporate champions (AT&T, Coca-Cola, Capital One) and a host of other official partners that included Allstate, Buick and Burger King. But in our opinion, the underdogs stole the advertising show. Here is a ranking of our “final four” favorite marketing initiatives that aired this year.

The Cinderella story goes to the NBA. Who would have thought that the NBA would advertise inherently at a lower level? Unlikely as it sounds, the NBA became the new cheerleader. Despite being the NCAA’s top competitor this time of the year, the NBA embraced the tournament and decided to remind basketball fans that, after the tournament is over, great basketball continues with the NBA playoffs. The NBA’s goal was to build the existing fan base, while reminding them of the college glory days of NBA stars.

The integrated campaign (TV, digital, print and social) “The Dance Never Ends” featured both young and veteran NBA stars to take the viewer back to the professional players college days by showing the players in their college alma mater uniforms.

Pizza Hut and AT&T gain Final Four recognition. Pizza Hut stole the show for the millennial fans, who are attracted to goofy contests and the idea of something being free. The pizza chain challenged its fans to make a half-court shot … facing backwards. Jared Drinkwater, VP of marketing for Pizza Hut, says, “Making half-court shots has become a little too commonplace now, and much like we did when we upped the ante 20 years ago on pizza by stuffing cheese inside the crust, we’re doing the same with challenging America to make a half-court shot backwards.” The challenge was part of a whole event; contestants were flown to Indianapolis and free pizza was given away. The event was part of a larger promotion, updated from its old 1995 advertisement and premiere of the stuffed-crust pizza. The ad featured NBA legend David Robinson and sportscaster Dick Vitale, talking about “throwback in the price.”

AT&T guessed the bracket correctly, so to speak. This set of commercials tagged strong-featured Duke star Christian Laettner. Which wouldn’t be so significant if Duke hadn’t come out on top –something you cannot possibly know when these campaigns are on the drawing board. In the first aired spot, basketball legends Shaq O’Neal, Clyde Drexler and Julius Erving accompanied Laettner, who was literally resting on his laurels, the nets from Duke’s back-to-back championship wins in 1991 and 1992. The other spots in the campaign showed hilarious sides of each player, all while mentioning and centering on the idea of AT&T’s network being stronger.

Buffalo Wild Wings (B-Dubs) win it all. Going into the restaurant’s third year of being dubbed the official hangout for March Madness, B-Dubs launched an integrated marketing campaign based solely on relating to its audience’s emotion. Tagged #WingWisdom, the campaign was a stroke of genius that was multi-tiered. There was a new episodic series of “Don’t try this at home” ads starring comedian Steve Rannazzisi. Different commercials aired at relevant times during the madness, depicting experiences fans encounter enjoying the game at home versus enjoying it at Buffalo Wild Wings. The restaurant tied in different social mediums, with comedic references about the proper way to fill out a bracket, the sweet 16, bandwagon fans and the finals, while using the hashtag #WingWisdom. In addition to the video spots, B-Dubs created invitations for social users to tag and invite friends to the restaurant, a tournament tracker with the latest scores, and an interactive video with tips and advice to show how fans can “call in (not) sick” to watch the games.

You can read more about their fully integrated brand campaign.

Some might say B-Dubs overcomplicated it all, and its campaign was a no-brainer. But, after all, it’s all about building up the existing fan base and creating emotional experiences. That is exactly what the chain did; they played off of the fans and restaurant goers and created more meaningful interactions and conversations.

March Madness is unique in the lever of exposure it creates for viewers. Unlike the Super Bowl, marketing campaigns gain the chance to be drawn in, game after game, which creates a high level of repeated exposure. So, no matter how small the company or business is you are advertising for, think about how you can create recognition and remembrance during this time of mayhem across all mediums.

We would love for you to post below and share your favorite marketing madness. We’re looking forward to seeing the analytics and reports on how well the ads did and how much exposure these brand gained.