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March Madness Advertising and Why Timing is Everything

For fans of college basketball, the month of March is dominated by the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament, which features 68 teams competing in seven rounds of games over the course of four weeks. The incredible talent of the players, and the prospect of a “Cinderella” team winning against a “Power Five” team makes the NCAA tournament one of the largest TV viewing events of the year — and a potential slam dunk for advertisers.

The Power of Brand Memorability

It’s no secret that March Madness is a productive advertising environment, which yields considerable lift to ads’ performance on critical measures like Ad Memorability and Brand Linkage when compared to the same ads’ performance in the context of the regular season for NCAA Men’s Basketball. According to research conducted by Phoenix Brand Effect in 2018, Brand Memorability (the number of viewers able to remember both the content of the ad and the brand) was 30% stronger during March Madness compared to the regular season.

The main driver of that increase was an almost 20% lift to Brand Linkage, which is the amount of viewers able to correctly connect the advertiser’s brand with the content of the ad. This illustrates the amount of viewing influence that March Madness holds, and the importance of taking full advantage of a more highly engaged audience.

March Madness vs Regular Season Advertising

This raises the question: Is there an advantage to advertising solely during March Madness, rather than throughout the entire season? Ad and brand research experts at Phoenix MI say maybe not. Their analysis suggests that for brands that advertised in both portions of the season, brand linkage builds throughout the regular season and slowly gains momentum, before rising to a higher level during March Madness.

Source: Phoenix Brand Effect

So, why do brands perform better when they advertise during the entire four-month basketball season?

It could be due to the fact that brands had the advantage of wear-in (an ad tends to require multiple viewings to have an impact on viewers and gain this initial wear-in). So, by the time March Madness rolls around and audiences are the most engaged, a brand’s ad has already worn-in and is at peak performance to maximize return.

In fact, the data found that nine of the top 10 performing ads that aired during the 2018 March Madness Tournament debuted prior to the tournament. This demonstrates the value of allowing initial wear-in to take place in advance in order to take advantage of an engaged audience.

Looking to the 2019 Tournament

Some brands will be building upon their regular season advertising to garner fans’ attention, while others will be looking to make their big splash during the tournament. Either way, Phoenix MI will be tracking the performance of all the ads that air during the March Madness games, and will be reporting out on the winners and losers upon the conclusion of the Big Dance.

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