And to be honest, I don’t really care about college basketball.
As marketers, we see the world differently. This isn’t a sports competition. It’s a marketing case study. How did the NCAA get someone like me, and so many other apathetic viewers, to be an avid consumer of its product?
There’s a method to the madness. And there are a few lessons we marketers can learn from all of it.
The NCAA Tournament engages people like nothing else. You don’t just sit passively and watch the games, though that option is certainly available. You dust off your inner Nostradamus and fill out a bracket with your predictions, watch to see what you got right, and encourage your friends and coworkers to join you in a little friendly competition. And the level of involvement is a choice. You can spend hours researching, or make your picks based on which mascot you think is the cutest. Either method, as March Madness has proved again and again, can be effective.
Competition and Camaraderie
Although you can fill out a March Madness bracket alone, it’s way more fun when you involve others, especially if there is a pool or prize to be won. It encourages people to bring others in without requiring it. They talk about it, compare results, admire the sports nut’s strategy and laugh at the person who was actually crazy enough to pick Wichita State to go to the Final Four. It’s a light, friendly competition that brings people together around a common interest. That brings me to my next point.
Even if you don’t like basketball, it still includes something that people care about: their schools. Whether you are rooting for your alma mater or your home state, you always want your team to beat that other team. New programs and ideas need more than one thing to ignite passion in people, which in turn can make them passionate about something they didn’t care about before. March Madness merges sports culture with alumni culture and state pride, which would be harder to accomplish if it weren’t for my next point.
Unlike fantasy football that, popular as it is, takes a fair amount of commitment and research to participate in, filling out and following an NCAA Tournament bracket is simple and easy. It lowers the barrier of entry for those on the fence about participating, encouraging more people to say, “Why not? I’ll fill out a bracket.” The next thing you know, they are watching the close games, talking about matchups with friends, and quickly and quietly getting hooked. And that makes them want to do it again next year, leading to my last point.
Christmas. Movember. March Madness. I see so many good ideas that are one-offs. What marketers need to give their consumers is tradition—something their company does every year that they can look forward to. The fun of filling out a bracket and involving your office and friends was an idea that took some time to build in popularity. But now, it would be hard to imagine the NCAA Tournament without it.
The NCAA Tournament isn’t just for watching. It’s for participating. So how does your brand match up?
Brian Havig is a copywriter at gyro New York. Follow him @brhavig