There is an understandable frenzy of media buzz every January about Super Bowl commercials. This is mostly driven by gimmicks and celebrities rather than advertising that pulls its weight for brands. But one sporting event is often overlooked and actually does deliver an excellent opportunity to advertisers: the NCAA’s March Madness.
As with the Super Bowl, the audience for March Madness is large. The viewer demographics are also strong, cutting across gender, ethnicity, and age groups. And the real-time nature of the competition discourages time-shifting (and the associated commercial skipping).
One unique advantage March Madness has is its multi-week span. This provides a much wider promotional window than a one-off event. But is this the real differentiator that makes the tournament so successful for advertisers?
Some will say it’s a digital-driven win. But while the NCAA has certainly done a good job with social media to encourage viewer engagement, March Madness was a hot advertising venue for years before Facebook or Twitter came along.
There are two key drivers underlying the success of the NCAA’s college basketball finals from an advertising value standpoint. They’re not as sexy or as buzz-worthy as social media, but they have helped solidify consumer engagement for decades.
1. Alliteration. March Madness is divided into the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four. These easy-to-remember and -recite labels help TV commentators talk about the event, and help both sports fans and non-fans to keep track of the tournament. The names are catchy, memorable, and practical.
2. Bracket pools. There has been lots of heat for Fantasy Football leagues in recent years. But long before that format drew non-football fans into the competition, March Madness bracket contests have pulled non-college basketball fans into the tournament. Even those who don’t follow the sport can win their office pool, and the healthy chance for a non-fan to take the money of a Moneyball-esque sports nerd makes bracket competitions irresistible.
It’s up to brands to make the most of this month-long opportunity. With ad revenue for the 2016 tournament up 10% from 2015, marketers clearly recognize the value of the event. In an age of disruption and innovation, March Madness is a reminder that the tried and true still work – even if they’re not as much fun to focus on as the shiny new object.