Every year I get super pumped for March Madness, and I’m definitely not alone in my excitement. For a country that only legally allows gambling in a handful of states, it’s pretty incredible that a college basketball tournament can reach around $10.4 billion in money wagered — which is $1.2 billion more than last year (estimated by the American Gaming Association).
As much as I love the games, I’d be lying if I said I don’t get just as excited to see which sponsors get creative, using these three weeks of attention to their benefit — and which brands just end up blowing it.
So for this year’s March Madness, I decided to up the ante by combining the two things I love most: sports and marketing, ultimately resulting in March Adsanity — an official sponsor bracket of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. This allowed me to put brands on the spot, try something completely new, and take a risk on brands that we’d least expect to come out on top.
The way we organized March Adsanity — seeding 16 of the 18 official March Madness sponsors based on total social following across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube — creates for an unpredictably entertaining playing field. Just like in the NCAA Tournament, bigger brands (with higher marketing budgets) have the advantage, but that’s what makes the upsets more thrilling.
In theory, the brands with the largest following, like Oreo and Pizza Hut, should make it to the championship. But what if Oreo falls asleep at the wheel or gets bad, or even worse, no press one day? Or what if Buick comes up with a creative tie-in with March Madness that goes viral and takes them all the way to the end? Brilliant marketing and social tactics can easily shoot a lower-seeded brand to the top, creating a huge upset. The seeded matchups correspond to when the actual teams will play in the NCAA Sweet 16, and just like in the basketball tournament, if you have a good day, you advance — if you have a bad day, you’re out.
My advice to brands competing in March Adsanity is to take risks. Not to choose sides, but take a tip from Oreo at Super Bowl XLVII with the “Dunk in the Dark” tweet. By knowing the brand, thinking ahead, and connecting the content to resonate with the NCAA audience, brands can make big waves that will make those sponsorship dollars they’re spending, actually worth it.
While it’s unlikely that a brand like Allstate will bump Pizza Hut, it’ll be interesting to see how these brands will leverage social media during March Madness to connect with their fans. I expect to see a final four matchup of Wendy’s, Reese’s, Buick, and Pizza Hut, but it’s really anyone’s game. The one thing I can guarantee is a ridiculous trophy of honor for the winner of March Adsanity 2017.