How will brands suit up for March Madness?
In this piece, our Comperemedia experts explore what they expect to see and what they are excited to see from brands for this year’s March Madness tournament. They cover Telecom & Media, Insurance and Financial Services brands—and discuss their picks for the 2023 Men’s and Women’s NCAA College Basketball Champions.
Nicole Bond, Associate Director of Marketing Strategy at Comperemedia:
NCAA March Madness Selection Sunday (March 12) is just around the corner, meaning one of the most exciting events in college athletics is about to begin. The month-long format always has brands suiting up to be a part of the on-court action, as it provides the unprecedented opportunity to consistently connect with millions of engaged viewers across multiple games and over an extended period of time—unlike the 30-second splash of $7M Super Bowl campaign. Notably, viewership for both the Men’s (avg. 10.7M) and Women’s (avg. 4.9M) tournaments was respectively up 13% and 16% in 2022.
Comperemedia research shows brands spent over $500M on national TV advertising during 2022 March Madness as the tournament was in a rebound year, allowing fans back into the live action for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. With more solid footing, 2023 March Madness is likely to bring in more viewers for both the Men and Women’s tournaments and with it, more competitive brand activity. The brands that will emerge as the 2023 March Madness winners will add their own flair and amplify the themes we saw emerge during Super Bowl LVII throughout the month-long contest: The Elevation of ‘Advertainment,’ The Role of Representation (Aflac is already tapping into this notable theme), and The Impact of Economic Pressures.
Men’s: My gut is telling me that UCLA is going to take home the Men’s title this year, but my heart loves an underdog story and hopes that Marquette out of the Big East conference will take the trophy to a Mid-Major school.
Women’s: Iowa is on a roll after winning the Big Ten Tournament Championship and South Carolina has managed to go undefeated all year, but with all that being said I am going to with the Big Ten regular season champs – Indiana.
TELECOM: Bella Broccolo, Associate Research Analyst, Telecom, Tech, and Media:
Whether it’s through clearer connections or greater game coverage, March Madness provides brands with an opportunity to draw customers in by highlighting streaming capabilities. Paramount+ prompted consumers to upgrade streaming plans in 2022 to unlock live coverage of the tournament and engage with fans through March Madness trivia. AT&T’s unique position as a partner of the tournament naturally leads to increased efforts in March. Last year’s tactics included creatives promoting the provider’s 5G coverage even amid the “madness of march.” As 5G seemed to be the cornerstone prioritized in national TV and display efforts, I expect brands will continue to use the tournament as a stage for competitive tactics promoting 5G with a sprinkling of product promotions to draw fans in. Additionally, if AT&T taps into a similar strategy as last year, the celebrities making an appearance in national TV ads will be highly anticipated.
Men’s: Northwestern (go Cats always) – but maybe a little more realistic guess, I will go with UCLA.
Women’s: Iowa (based on these rankings, going with lucky number 7!)
INSURANCE: Kendall Gadie, Research Manager of Insurance at Comperemedia:
Insurers always make a big splash during March Madness, particularly Aflac, GEICO, and Progressive, as they are all big sponsors. Insurers have always leveraged live sports events to promote their brands, and March Madness is one of the most viewed live sports events each year. Last year was unique since it was the first full tournament since the pandemic. Now that we’ve had one year under our belt, I expect companies will bring their most memorable and funny moments insurers have become known for in the past, to this year’s March Madness. It’s also going to be interesting to see if insurers take more of a back seat or choose to use less traditional channels to engage with customers.
For the second consecutive year, State Farm made waves when it skipped a Super Bowl commercial and chose to leverage Tik Tok instead. I’m curious as to whether other insurers might take that route too to connect throughout the NCAA tournament, especially as some have pulled back on advertising altogether. March Madness creates a unique opportunity for real-time engagement with customers since there are so many big moments throughout. Brands could look to connect via social media posts or videos after a big shot or during crunch time of a big game to create real-time reactions and celebrate key moments. With loosened name and likeness standards in NCAA, a few might even look to connect with college athletes who make a name for themselves during the madness of March.
Men’s: I think I will be pulling for the “use-to-be Mid Major” schools like #1 Houston and #10 Gonzaga. However, my gut tells me a blueblood will end up with the crown, so I’m going with Kansas.
Women’s: South Carolina has dominated all year but they’ve also had a few games against unranked opponents on the road where they did not perform as expected. However, I still have to give them the nod to win it all because overall they’ve been crushing it.
FINANCIAL SERVICES: Emily Pardo, Associate Research Analyst, Financial Services:
March Madness offers financial services brands a unique opportunity to push higher engagement rates among their followers. Invesco focused on gamification in 2022, while also using the star power of Candace Parker, as the basketball bigshot encouraging consumers to play a game where they digitally shoot hoops and build their “digital dough.” College Ave. did a daily giveaway throughout the tournament, driving consumers to follow them on Facebook. Capital One, as an exclusive sponsor of NCAA March Madness, focused their advertising on raising awareness of exclusive giveaways and showing off some star power, featuring famous players such as Charles Barkley and playing off the shared last name of Sue and Larry Bird to advertise their brackets.
Paid and owned social were the preferred methods of advertising in 2022, though Invesco also ventured into desktop display. In this, brands seemed to be focusing on the ads as a way to drive higher engagement among their consumers, getting people onto their websites and using their products. This year, I expect brands to have the same, bottom-funnel focus as last year, using star power and giveaways to not only drive awareness of their brand but engage with consumers on a personal level and get them to engage with the company.
Men’s: Kansas won last year and is looking really good this year, so going with the safe bet, I am going to say them.
Women’s: With their 30-0 record, South Carolina is just too dominant to lose.
What We Think
Last year, brands leveraged March Madness to connect with diverse audiences through captivating narratives, hyper-relevant integrations, and impactful stances for social change. In 2023, brands will continue to find clever ways to provide entertainment when the live action is stalled—earning brand recognition by joining the March Madness conversations and infusing storylines that are meaningful to the game, the audience, and the student-athletes on the court.
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