Another major sporting event is about to kick off, so no doubt brands are stacking the papers (proverbially) in their latest marketing campaigns surrounding March Madness. If you aren’t a sports fan, then you might just know the term and not the sport. The sport is college basketball and if you are a brand, it might do you some good to pay attention to it.
One of the major issues with brand behavior and marketing during major sporting events is that they don’t appear to be watching the games. They plan a general campaign around assumed stop points in the games. They know there will be a halftime. They know there are several rounds in the tournament, but rarely do they focus on the details that consumers are focusing on and that ends up creating a divide in their marketing and expected reach. The “look how rich we are” approach isn’t going to work here. Holding massive parties and relying on incidental and sponsored interaction from celebrities isn’t going to resonate with consumers anymore. They want interaction, they want humanity and they want conversation. With that in mind, here are five ways brands can get in on March Madness and not look like fools in the process.
5.) Embrace fandom. Many of the brands advertising during the tournament, and especially during the Final Four have already spent a great deal of money. Many other brands will solely be running social media campaigns to hop on the interaction train. Of course, they could just as well do something now, before the games get started, but that would make too much sense. So instead, they’ll be creating hashtags such as #insertbrandnamehereMadness and so on. In fact, we should track that hashtag just to see what happens.
People are on social media every day. Brands interact with them often, but during March Madness there is a fever amidst the fans. They are more aggressive, more vocal and certainly more reactionary. While this can backfire, brands should get in on the action. This may require picking sides, but go ahead and challenge ridiculous claims. Make predictions in a public forum about who you think the final four is going to be. Create your own brackets and encourage followers to join for a mild assortment of prizes. Either action gets people talking to you, and about you, which is never a bad thing. Best case scenario, you predict an underdog winning and everyone gets free [insert brand service or product here].
4.) Create smart, timely hashtags. If you are a major brand with a billion followers (number might be inflated a tad) then you have the power to create trending topics just by talking about it. The key is getting that reach, to other networks and people who don’t follow you. Especially when such a high percentage of your followers are most likely bots anyway. So besides #insertbrandnamehereMadness, you are going to have to get a little bit more creative.
When hashtagging your contest, or your existence during the tournament, remember that every other brand is doing the same exact thing you are. Keep in mind that during these types of events everyone is standing in the hallway shouting at consumers to open the door, instead of waiting until after or before an event. So not only do you have to look for something specific to your brand, but to the event as well. I suggest not staying general and saying “I bet they are eating #foodbrandinthelockerroom”. There are details you can gather every night of the tournament that still don’t require more than a little extra planning.
3.) Root for the underdog. As mentioned before, successful brand awareness during March Madness may require picking sides. Unlike the Superbowl, or the World Series, March Madness operates a little bit differently. It starts out with 64 teams, many of them underdogs. There isn’t going to be as much fan venom if you side with someone that is not ‘their team’. Plus, everyone loves an underdog. It is not too late to get in on that. Send something to the locker room, support the school — do something to get behind them and show consumers that you have an active voice.
The worst part of these campaigns during major events is the hallway metaphor. Brands are just shouting for attention — pretending that they actually give a shit about the event, and just hoping that they are shouting louder. This proves that the system is broken and brands still have not been able to fully figure out this social media thing. Get in on the chatter, because if there is one thing people will be talking about at the beginning of the tournament, it is going to be the underdogs. Hashtag #underdogMadness
2.) Opposite day. If you are a big brand, get small and interact with as many people as possible about the games and about the chatter surrounding them. Get into the trenches and come up with as many hashtags (which are all trackable) as you want. You can compile stats later. Talk about shots, about jerseys, about coach reactions. You don’t have to talk about yourself. You don’t have to talk about your brand at all. Like a good friend, you just have to be there. Consumers on social media get all giddy when brands talk to them. If you oversell, that is what they are going to take away from the conversation and that isn’t positive.
If you are a small brand though, go big. Shoot back at the big brands in your same market (or in different markets, it doesn’t really matter). Choose a different side and start a flame war. While this might seem like terrible advice — what have you got to lose? Shoot tweets at celebrities talking about the games, but without any pitches, just with contrary opinions. Jump on the trending hashtags and talk. Just talk. You don’t need to be selling, you just need to be talking intelligently, humorously and with a generally affable ton. This kind of activity will require a great deal of attention. Which brings us to the most important point.
1.) Pay attention. Really pay attention. Watch the games. Know the rankings and who is playing each night. Know the scores and the shots. Know the jersey colors and the numbers of the star players. Know who is best from three point range and who the best rebounder is. The worst thing for brands is when they say something inaccurate or ignorant about a sporting event. They are immediately discounted and nothing they can after that point will help. Of course, the good news is they become Buzzfeed type fodder. While there is no thing as bad publicity, being the target of a joke doesn’t really help future campaigns.
No matter what happens over the next month (outside of the Florida Gators winning the tournament — my opinion), the real winners will be the brands that at least appear to be paying attention, not the ones just trying to get attention. To use a popular basketball analogy, now is the time to take that mid-court shot at the buzzer, not go for the technical foul. Alright, so maybe it isn’t that popular. Hashtag #insertbrandnamehereMadness.