How Retailers Can Transform ‘March Madness’ Into ‘Marketing Magic’

With the first weekend of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament posting an average of 9.325 million viewers across all games and four television networks, “March Madness” continues to captivate both major sports fans and casual viewers alike. But the frenzy also can be a big boon to retailers and brands seeking to launch marketing campaigns.

CPG food and beverage brands are obviously big beneficiaries of the tournament: During last year’s tournament, wing orders were 24% higher than during the days prior to the tournament, while pizza orders were 17% higher, according to data from Yahoo. Sponsor apparel brands increased web site searches 33% on the first day of the tournament versus the week prior.

While many retailers don’t always have the natural product ties to March Madness that food, beverage and apparel brands do, they can learn from these marketers how to drive awareness and purchases by engaging audiences in authentic, creative and fun ways.


“There is a broad demographic that actually engages around March Madness, whether through filling out brackets and participating with team promotions,” said Courtney McKlveen, VP and Industry Lead of Retail, Travel and QSR at Yahoo. “It’s an interesting time of year for retailers to specifically think about ways to align with context and make the connection between their brand and the tournament itself in some way.”

Social, Mobile Share Top Seeds In Marketing Bracket

Social media continues to build this connection between fans and brands, but with the tournament in full swing, retailers can integrate national hashtags and other promotional images into their own campaigns to spread the word. Official March Madness social media handles generated 26 million social engagements across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram through Sunday, March 19 — up 20% from the tournament’s first weekend in 2016 — so brands have a massive audience to make an impression on.

Retailers can impact an even larger audience through their mobile devices, especially as more consumers shop on these devices. Marketers and advertisers can extend their campaign messaging across mobile apps using targeted native and native video ads to maximize brand engagement.

“[Consumers’] shopping experience starts earlier and lasts longer, and a lot of that is driven by the amount of time that they spend on a mobile device,” McKlveen said. “It’s about the experience the consumer has with them across any device they use. Last year, the March Madness tournament dates represented the highest volume of app sessions for Yahoo Sports in the first half of the year, so it drives significant traffic. That translates into high mobile web traffic and content consumption. Retailers need to be where consumers are, because when they ultimately try to transact, the customer needs to have enough recall to pick you instead of another brand.”

Context Drives Consumer ‘Brand Recall’

McKlveen reiterated that context is as important as targeting, especially since the tournament consists of dozens of individual games, each with its own unique moments. Brands that quickly and smoothly promote campaigns that coincide with many key moments can help foster brand recall for shoppers in a way that targeting specific demographics might not.

While March Madness is the flavor of the month, retailers can apply this logic with other nationwide events or shopping seasons throughout the year to further understand how and when to meet the consumer.

“With Millennials purchasing later in the shopping cycle, retailers have to remember to plan ahead of time, whether it’s sporting events, moments or holidays, so they can learn to adapt and repeat,” said McKlveen. “It’s about speaking to the audience, whether they’re preparing for their bracket or starting a competition with friends and family. And it’s about thinking of the length of time you’re spending with consumers. The word ‘loyalty’ is fun to throw around, but it still exists. In order to build loyalty, it takes time, and it means being there throughout the shopping cycle, and having the confidence to think about your ROI differently.”

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