March Madness Slam Dunks YouTube

Sunday evening 6 p.m. EST was liftoff for Matt Carstens. As soon as the 65 teams in the NCAA tournament were announced, he scrambled to launch a March Madness YouTube channel in a matter of hours.

Mission accomplished. Carstens, the vice president of digital media at marketing firm Intersport, had coaches--whose teams were selected--lined up to star in a slew of videos where they offered advice for people filling out brackets and picking upsets.

Due to advance planning, the Intersport-produced vignettes were shot and quickly edited with few hiccups, then posted. And the coaches didn't pull punches in some instances. Memphis' John Calipari suggested Cleveland State would knock off Wake Forest, while Tennessee's Bruce Pearl predicted Kansas would go down to North Dakota St.

But Carstens was careful not to force coaches into providing "bulletin-board material" by picking games involving teams they may face in the tournament.

The YouTube channel, which will remain relevant until the first-round games begin Thursday, is a marketing vehicle for LifeLock. As the sponsor, the identity-theft protection company is running billboards--promoting a sweepstakes--at the beginning and end of the 35-plus short videos.

On Monday, when the American pastime of picking games in office pools was building toward a zenith, LifeLock had what's referred to as a "home page takeover" at YouTube.com. That brought a sizable ad in the upper right, which prompted a click-through to the channel.

"There aren't that many opportunities to get people engaged with your brand," said LifeLock Vice President of Marketing Andrew Wyant--citing the intersection of YouTube's massive traffic with how top-of-mind filling out brackets is this week.

"It's unbelievably relevant Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday," said Intersport CEO Charlie Besser.

LifeLock will continue to promote the sweepstakes--where a person who signs up for a trial can win a trip to a college slam dunk and three-point shooting event--after Thursday via banner ads on some 10,000 sites (purchased through an ad network).

(The videos on YouTube are also available on other Web video sites, where LifeLock also has a presence--as well as Verizon's VCast service.)

LifeLock has traditionally been a direct-response-type advertiser. But Intersport Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, David Curran, said that initiatives such as the YouTube channel and links with NASCAR programming are part of the company increasingly allocating resources for developing a "branding look and feel."

Nonetheless, LifeLock's direct-response roots will steer it to carefully gauge the effectiveness of the YouTube gambit over the next month. Mike Alvarez, an Intersport senior vice president, said there will be "deep diving into the data to see how it performs."

Intersport has some trademark rights to the term March Madness, and outside the LifeLock/YouTube arrangement has been (and will be) producing a slew of sponsored programming affiliated with it--airing via time buys and barter deals.

Three tournament preview shows on Fox Sports Net with coaches are coming during the ensuing weeks. Intersport will also produce the telecast of the college slam dunk and three-point shooting contests on ESPN, where the LifeLock sweepstakes winner will be in attendance.

When all is said and done, there will be four specials on ABC, including one involving well-known announcer Dick Vitale, and one on CBS airing the day before the national championship game.

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