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Last year, advertising revenue for the NCAA tourney hit a record $1 billion, and CBS and Turner Sports reported complete inventory sell-outs for the 2022 tourney.
At that same time, 10.7 million viewers tuned into March Madness in 2022, a 13% increase from the previous year’s figures, providing a lucrative advertising opportunity for marketers everywhere.
This inspired us to explore the most effective advertising options for March Madness as we get into the spirit of this famous tournament.
We reveal our top four picks for March Madness advertising based on overall market growth:
It hasn’t taken long for CTV and OTT to change the advertising game. Revenue from OTT video increased from $72.52 billion in 2017 to $321.50 billion in 2023–a growth of approximately 343.5%!
Meanwhile, Linear TV continues to decline, going from $99.37 billion in 2017 to only $84.24 billion in 2023, decreasing ~15.27%.
It’s no secret Linear TV faces increasing competition from OTT and CTV platforms, which offer more targeted advertising and greater flexibility for viewers.
On average, cord-cutters and cord-trimmers watched nine games (excluding the final four and the championship game), while linear households watched around seven games.
So, not only are CTV and OTT growing but cord-cutter and trimmer viewers view more of March Madness than Linear TV viewers, making it a slam dunk platform for advertisers looking to reach engaged and enthusiastic sports fans.
March Madness viewing habits have changed, with more people cutting the cord than ever before and young people streaming across various devices. To cover all advertising bases, OTT and CTV are a real consideration.
📺 How can brands cut through the clutter with CTV ads during March Madness? 📺
“To stand out from the competition, brands must create compelling CTV advertisements that lead viewers to a website or app featuring a persuasive end screen.”
–Brandon Pollard, Director of Ad Ops, KORTX
KORTX worked with Tropical Smoothie Cafe to ad QR codes to its CTV ads. This ad encapsulates the topical beach location, frenetically changing from scene to scene to entice viewers to enjoy a little bit of tropical life at home. Notice how after the first dancing sequence, a QR code pops up to encourage viewers to order a smoothie.
By scanning the QR code with their smartphone or tablet, we direct users to its website to earn a promotion, learn more, or purchase.
QR codes also offer advertisers increased traceability because any time a user scans the code, it’s like clicking on an ad. Any time someone scans the ad, their usage is tracked and includes information like the scan location, number of scans, what time the scans took place, and the device’s operating system.
As the industry moves from traditional linear broadcasting to streaming and social media, brands can benefit from this rapid evolution by combining both worlds.
For example, McDonald’s FIFA World Cup campaign featured Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso (his character from the Apple TV+ original series).
Their star-studded campaigns included TikTok personality Khaby Lame, K-pop artist ITZY, and Twitch streamer Edwin Castro.
Brands can use clickable end cards, in-app ads directing viewers to their website or app, or work with social media influencers to create sponsored content.
🤔 Who builds brackets for March Madness? 🤔
ESPN had 17.3 million brackets completed for their Men’s NCAA Tournament Challenge, and, despite the NCAA’s efforts to raise the visibility of the women’s tournament, only 1.5 million brackets were completed for ESPN’s Woman’s Tournament Challenge.
That’s 11 times fewer March Madness Brackets for the women’s tournament than the men’s. However, the future isn’t bleak–ESPN reported that bracket entries have tripled in the last three years of the tournament.
People spend more and more time watching online videos (videos on desktops, laptops, and tablets) every year. In 2018, people only spent about one hour and 38 minutes watching digital videos, but in 2023, that number jumped to around three hours and 11 minutes!
A 2020 survey revealed that TVs remained the most commonly used devices for watching online video content, followed by computers, used by around half of the respondents.
💻Interesting Fact About Online Video Ads 💻
In 2023, the amount of money US advertisers spend on digital video programmatically will surpass linear TV ad spending. Nearly 9 in 10 of all digital video ad dollars will transact programmatically for the next few years.
Consumers can stream content anywhere at any time with these devices because they are portable and easily carried around, providing greater convenience and flexibility in terms of when and where they can access online videos.
Online video ads might be the best way to target people who are always on the go or prefer to watch their favorite content outside traditional living room settings.
With online video ads, advertisers can choose between in-stream, out-stream, and interactive video as well as pre-, mid-, and post-roll, and typically offered in :15- or : 30-second video assets measured by VCR.
📝 Online Video Ad Definition Cheat Sheet 📝
Brands can use a variety of online video ads to target consumers during the tournament.
A sports apparel brand could run a 15-second in-stream ad just before a March Madness game starts, showcasing their latest basketball gear collection and encouraging viewers to visit their website to check out the products.
A beverage brand could run a 30-second out-stream ad on a sports news website featuring friends watching March Madness games while drinking the brand’s product and having a good time.
A snack brand could run an interactive video ad allowing viewers to play a basketball game within the ad, where they can score points and win prizes redeemed on the brand’s website.
A ticket booking website could run a 15-second pre-roll ad before a stream, promoting discounted ticket prices and encouraging viewers to book seats for the upcoming games.
An electronics brand could run a 30-second mid-roll ad during a stream, showcasing their latest smart TVs and how they can enhance the viewing experience for sports fans.
A pizza delivery chain could run a 30-second post-roll ad after a game stream, featuring a special discount code for viewers to order their favorite pizza and enjoy it while watching the next game.
These are only hypothetical examples of a few of the many ways advertisers can use online video ads to enhance their March Madness marketing strategy. The possibilities for March Madness marketing with online video ads are endless, and brands using these strategies have the potential to reach millions of passionate basketball fans.
We offer a personalized approach to every campaign to help our clients develop an advertising strategy that sells.
Cross-platform display saw a 38% interactions increase with official NCAA social media handles.
What’s more, during a March Madness live telecast, 20% of engagements resulted in a second screen opportunity, with viewers exposed to an average of seven ad impressions.
Within an hour of watching the game, 41% of March Madness viewers checked ad-addressable websites, most visiting new sites, and 59% of these second-screen experiences occurred on mobile devices.
And, in case users can’t get enough college basketball, in 2022, Turner and CBS Sports rolled out a feature in the NCAA March Madness Live app that allows users to watch two games at once (one sans audio) on more platforms:
Viewers can watch multiple games simultaneously, meaning marketers have double the advertising opportunities.
Cross-platform advertising reaches consumers at different stages of the consumer journey by using various touchpoints that are relevant to the consumer, such as seeing an ad on television and then following up with a display ad on a site that the consumer is likely to use, such as a news site or YouTube.
This way, advertisers can increase the chances of consumer engagement and ultimately drive conversions.
March Madness is a prime opportunity for advertisers to take advantage of as many advertising opportunities as possible by turning to cross-platform displays.
The goal of cross-platform displays is to reach as many consumers as possible across multiple devices and touchpoints and display ads in a complementary way.
As an example, a beer brand could run a TV ad during a March Madness game and then use display ads on social media and popular beer-related websites to promote special promotions or deals for the tournament.
During the Super Bowl, Doritos aired its iconic triangle ad featuring Jack Harlow and Elton John. Although Harlow got snubbed for the Triangle Player of the Year award, Doritos still won out by displaying its ad on social media and as a new banner on its website.
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💰 How Much Does March Madness Advertising Cost? 💰
A 30-second spot during a Final Four game is up to $2 million, with total ad spends above $1 billion. That’s a lot of nachos and beer money!
In the first two days of March Madness, related conversations reached over 576,000 engagements and 1.57 billion impressions on Twitter.
Related conversations reached over 1.57 billion impressions on Twitter during a March Madness tournament.
In the second round (and the first weekend of play), engagements fell to around 1.92 million, while impressions dropped to 3.84 billion.
Sprout Social also researched which states and regions were most active, with the highest total engagements from March 14-21 being:
Unsurprisingly, these states also had fan bases with (or close to) teams headed to the Sweet Sixteen.
These social media metrics show the potential for marketers to invest in this advertising type.
Social media is an integral part of March Madness, so much so that even Twitter saw a 291% increase in video views on college basketball during the tournament.
Let’s see how some brands use social media to market during March Madness.
Brands can create contests and challenges on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to engage users during March Madness.
PetFoodDirect.com gave users the chance to vote for their favorite March Magic team (or pup) for a chance to win a DoggieNation sports jersey.
Brands can create custom hashtags for March Madness and encourage users to use them in their posts.
Wendy’s created #ForTheWendys to promote their annual Twitter event, Wendy’s March Madness Pick ‘Em. The promotion received around 1,000 engagements, 934 likes, and 4.35 million potential impressions.
Hit the ❤️ if you’re hype Wendy’s Pick ‘Em is BACK!
We’ll hit you up when it’s time to make your picks for EVERY round of March Madness.
Winning picks win sweet deals, so Choose Wisely #ForTheWendys pic.twitter.com/iWyxTaN8vO
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) March 16, 2022
Brands can collaborate with popular influencers to promote their products during March Madness.
Since the historic Supreme Court decision, student-athletes are now partnering with name brands like Nike, Dollar Shave Club, Bose, and others to help generate buzz.
Bose partnered with Aliyah A. Boston, Chet Holmgren, Jalen Duren, and Wendell Moore for its #RuleTheQuiet campaign.
Locking in starts with blocking out the noise. Eyes on the national championship. #TeamBose pic.twitter.com/8yXyO0nYUB
— Aliyah A. Boston (@aa_boston) March 14, 2022
No basketball star should have to hear their haters.
📜Rules Around March Madness Marketing 📜
The NCAA has strict rules surrounding March Madness advertising. To avoid running into any issues, avoid using the following terms in any of your marketing materials:
Also, don’t use the NCAA or March Madness logos on your marketing materials during the tournament season.
Figuring out what type of marketing will work best for your brand is not as complicated as it seems. Ask yourself who you are trying to reach and what you are trying to accomplish. Dig into your current successes and the options in front of you to discover unique opportunities. Once you’ve decided on your goals, the tactic will clear.
The NCAA tourney is a highly anticipated event for sports enthusiasts and a lucrative opportunity for advertisers. Last year’s record-breaking $1 billion advertising revenue demonstrates the tournament’s vast potential.
With CTV/OTT, Cross-Platform Display, Online Video Ads, and Social Media Advertising, advertisers can reach a wider audience through targeted and flexible means. Also, consumers’ increasing shift towards online video content and the growth of CTV and OTT platforms show that online video ads can provide greater convenience and flexibility, making it the best way to target viewers who prefer to watch content outside traditional settings.
So, if you want to be a real player in the advertising game during March Madness, it’s time to get in the zone, put on your lucky jersey, and start strategizing your winning advertising plays.
Rondell Wilson is an Ad Operations Specialist at KORTX. His hobbies include optimizing ad campaigns, coaching and playing basketball, and learning the forever-changing digital marketing landscape.
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