March Madness gives brands golden opportunity (if they take it)

Jump on exclusive video content, say the guys from Big Block.

Large events like the March Madness are the championship round for sponsors, just as much as they are for the teams and players. All season long, brands sponsor teams and/or leagues for the benefit of exposure, and the opportunity to be seen by hundreds of millions of eyeballs come the end of the year.

There are many ways to get your brand’s name associated with these major events, but in today’s marketing lifecycle, it’s what you do after that moment that defines the value of the opportunity.

Benefits like naming rights and title sponsorships are an expensive gamble, but tentpoles like March Madness are the ultimate payoff, especially for markets (like San Antonio or Minneapolis) where hosting is rare. The unique nature of it all makes it important for the brand to double down on this one-time opportunity.

Reports say that hosting the Super Bowl was worth as much as $50 million for Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank. And the company utilized its unique stature in the market to make some hay with the 125,000-plus visitors to the city during the week of the game. Among the activities, U.S. Bank placed local ads around transportation hubs, ran local TV ads, shared social media videos, and had a branded lounge at a local restaurant to showcase the latest technology around banking experiences.

From a local perspective, it’s a start for maximizing your share of voice in the market as a non-NFL sponsor. But it may also fall short as an omni-channel marketing moment—the unique chance for brands that are rarely in the spotlight to punch above its weight class.

When you can give your brand—especially one without a large national presence otherwise—a reason to be part of the national live sports conversation, it’s an opportunity that can’t be missed.

Financial institutions like U.S. Bank can use these moments to connect with a social good. The economy is doing well, but financial literacy is still low—an education program tying into football could’ve been a very effective use of that platform allotted to them. San Antonio’s Alamodome has no naming rights holder, yet the venue’s largest sponsors, H-E-B grocery stores and University Health System, will also be afford their own chances to maximize that scope from the local level to a national scale.

Like U.S. Bank, these brands have easy societal narratives to tie to; healthy eating for H-E-B and proper healthcare for University Health System. Simply creating content having to do with basketball (their lack of NCAA sponsorship means they can’t use any signage) is enough to lift a campaign’s reach here.

Even without a national campaign in various communities, these brands can create local content around the aforementioned specialized issues that could be captured and distributed during and after the Final Four.

Like there is with every marketing and advertising activity today, the event puts an onus on sponsors to view this as a publisher would: How do you generate the most content out of your moment? And even more importantly, how do you generate the most lasting content, long past the conclusion of the game?

Sponsorship can’t be as simple as just "putting your name on the game." And the best experiential marketing brands understand that viewers hearing your name over and over doesn’t create affinity. Positive association with products, services and experiences are what builds recognition and loyalty. Distributed, "exclusive" video content is just one of the many ways to reach out to consumers with a value proposition.

You see more and more brands taking this tact as the sponsorship conversation gets more crowded. AT&T expands many of its event sponsorships into content plays, inviting at-home viewers to get unique video access if they’re a DIRECTV subscriber. Lexus once created a three-part video series out of NFL player Vernon Davis’s move from San Francisco to Denver, tying it to their Crossover vehicle.

Gatorade once used its own NFL sponsorship for a Snapchat lens around the Super Bowl, letting users re-create an iconic Gatorade shower for a winning team, and share with friends.

Even brands that aren’t sponsors in any capacity have found ways to grab hold of a moment around the game. See Oreo’s expert social media usage during the Super Bowl blackout in 2013. They weren’t prepared for a blackout. They were prepared for anything, and had the ability to mobilize in order to maximize the impact of their reaction (in that case, a very clever and timely tweet).

Noise around major live sporting events has never been louder, and marketing messages have never been this fragmented, either. But sponsor brands can still find long-term value in the moment, simply by rising to the occasion.

When lightning strikes, brands need to be ready to elevate their creativity and marketing firepower. For those without the in-house resources, it’s also the perfect time to tap external creative and production resources for the biggest stage. They’re accustomed to turning moments into lasting brand value. And if a brand isn’t trying to do that with a showcase like the Final Four, then what’s the point of being there at all?

Seven Volpone is CEO at Big Block Capital Group and Blake Morrison is the head of live experiences.