Originally published on OutBrain.com
The opening round of March Madness will begin shortly. While perhaps not quite on the scale of the Super Bowl or the Olympics, March Madness has also becoming something of an advertising holiday. Last year saw 70 million video streams of the games across broadband and mobile – which represented an impressive 20% of all viewing. And that doesn’t account for all the engagement with highlights and other related media.
According to Turner Sports, roughly 20 brands control the majority of promotional opportunities throughout the tournament as official sponsors, including AT&T, Coca-Cola and Capital One. As the tournament has increasingly gone digital, much of the marketing activity occurs on Twitter and now, thanks to a new deal with Turner Sports, YouTube, which will dedicate a channel to highlights, recaps, press conferences and more during the tournament.
But just like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, your brand doesn’t have to be an official sponsor to have some fun with the tournament and leverage the ensuing interest for your business.
Here are a few tips to making March Madness productive for your brand.
Don’t Get Sued
This should be a familiar warning to marketers, but still, let’s get the negative out of the way; unless your company is formally associated with the NCAA tournament as a corporate sponsor or partner, you may not use the intellectual property associated with it for marketing purposes. That includes the phrase “March Madness.”
Luckily, content marketing can help with this. Using “March Madness” in an ad to sell your wares is a non-starter. Using it in a blog post or byline, however, isn’t a problem. Provided you’re not selling anything. And as all good content marketers know, your blog probably isn’t the right asset to sell anything anyway.
If you’re still unsure how to use March Madness in your content, consult another resource or go straight to the horse’s mouth and get a full list of protected trademarks from the NCAA.
Use the Bracket… Or Some Version of It
The official bracket used to predict and track the fates of the 68 teams in the tournament is arguably the NCAA’s greatest marketing asset, as even the most disinterested person usually fills one out because, let’s face it, it’s kind of fun.
Come up with your own version that would get audiences to engage and interact with your brand. Find the subject matter relevant to your brand and have some fun staging “match-ups”. Here’s a list of examples for inspiration.
Turn Watching at Work Into an Opportunity
Chances are, some of your colleagues will be streaming games at their desks during the first couple rounds of the tournament, or at least the final minutes of some nail-biters (which is what most people do).
How much the tournament impacts productivity, if at all, varies depending on who you ask, but one estimate puts it at a $1.2 billion loss . You might as well get some marketing activity out of it in return. Challenge your distracted colleagues to turn their excitement into an opportunity – like tweeting at a client whose alma mater is on the brink.
Support the Hometown Team
With 68 teams in the tournament spread out all over the U.S., one of them is probably a school near you. Showing your local/regional team some love on social channels like Twitter or Instagram is a great way to get the team’s fans to engage with your brand.
But remember: No one likes a bandwagon fan, especially if it’s a brand. Authenticity is going to be your greatest ally. Before anyone can question your loyalty, show off any trivia you know about the local team, coaches or players — past and present. If you don’t know any, someone in your organization probably does. Keep in mind, though, that with loyalty comes rivalry. If you choose to officially or unofficially endorse any school in the tournament, prepare to incur the wrath of its rival school’s fans – even if they’re not participating in the tournament.
Last but not least, get cozy with the mascot. A number of schools have official Twitter accounts for their mascots, some of which are highly active. If you’re looking for a real-time marketing opportunity, the mascot may be your best friend.
Where There is Sport, There is a Lesson
The tournament is rife with opportunity to teach life lessons, populated with metaphors about underdogs, Cinderellas, winning, losing, teamwork, talent, and anything else you can think of. Hone in on a particular game, team, coach, player or moment and write a blog post for your audience showing them what it all means for their lives. If that sounds a little over-the-top, it is. But hey, it’s March Madness. Win or go home.