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The month of March is commonly associated with St. Patrick’s Day, the beginning of spring, and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. For a few weeks every year, March Madness takes over television, radio, and office conference rooms alike, as people around the nation--basketball fans or not--fill out a bracket and follow the action.

March Madness is a huge opportunity for brands to interact with a passionate, engaged audience - and they certainly do: according to Kantar, brands spent $1.24 billion on TV advertising during 2016’s March Madness. Brands have a good reason to be active - audiences are highly engaged for weeks leading up to the tournament as they plan their brackets and watch conference tournaments, throughout the tournament as they watch games, monitor their brackets and interact with friends and coworkers in bracket pools, and they’re doing all of this across multiple social networks, devices, and channels.

And so, with the NCAA tournament down to the Sweet 16, CHIEF decided to look at the social trends of the tournament so far, how brands are getting in on the action, and to have a little fun by using our analytics insights to predict the rest of tournament.

The March Madness Conversation: Who Will Win?

The tool we used for our prediction is Crimson Hexagon, a social listening tool that monitors social media platforms and can help determine trends in topics of conversations. Before delving into our predictions for the rest of the tournament, it’s important to frame where we’re at after the first few rounds of games.

Since Selection Sunday (March 12), the March Madness conversation on social media has generated over 2.3 million posts, ranging in sentiment from extreme joy, like South Carolina fans after the Gamecocks upset Duke, to extreme sadness and disbelief, like the crying Northwestern fan after his team fell to Gonzaga in the Round of 32.

Crimson Hexagon’s algorithms allow CHIEF to understand a social media user’s emotion when posting online, and to aggregate that data over the scale of a larger conversation, such as March Madness. A visualization of the sentiment (emotion) of the 2.3 million posts in the March Madness conversation can be found below:

As you can see, only 25% of the posts from the conversation, or roughly 575,000 posts, contain emotion. This reflects the significant amount of news coverage around the tournament, as news outlets rarely flash emotion in social media posts.

A key insight from the above chart is that although typically only 18 perfect brackets remain out of 18 million brackets on ESPN’s Bracket Challenge, people are not overly upset about their brackets being busted. In fact, 47% of social media conversation participants are still very happy with March Madness, meaning that most people are just enjoying the thrills that come with the competition. This is an encouraging sign for marketers, who are hoping that fans continue to get excited about the tournament and tune in all the way through the end, so that companies’ advertising dollars are well spent.

Marketing Madness for Brands

With excited and engaged fans, March Madness is a time for brands to be creative, to try out new ideas, and to leverage new technologies or channels. Some of our favorite marketing campaigns of this year’s tournament show how brands can think outside of the box while also capturing the fun, competitive spirit of March Madness:

  • Capital One is the sponsor of the NCAA online bracket challenge, where hundreds of thousands of fans pick their teams. The bank is also running a March Madness campaign featuring Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee and Charles Barkley in TV commercials, online videos, and GIFs on social media that tap into experiences of March Madness like the agony of defeat, correctly picking an upset, or the joy of your team advancing. Capital One has made themselves a part of the conversation by giving fans content and tools to use as they follow the tournament.
  • Nike is sponsoring several of the teams in the Men and Women’s tournaments, many of which also feature Nike campaign branding on their social media channels, including Arizona, Baylor, Florida State, Gonzaga, and Oregon. The company is also running a series of animated videos featuring former college athletes telling stories from their own experiences in the NCAA tournament. By telling a cohesive story - of the mindsets that players and teams bring to March Madness - Nike is creating an experience and brand around its March Madness products.

  • Buffalo Wild Wings launched a multi-channel campaign to establish itself as the “Official Hangout for NCAA March Madness,” with an interactive tournament tracker page, a custom Snapchat filter, and contests and games at restaurants. The company is also running several social media campaigns, including “Tools of Distraction,” videos and GIFs that fans can use on Twitter and Facebook against opposing teams, and a tutorial on using these tools on Instagram Stories. Buffalo Wild Wings has created a fun, competitive environment using multiple platforms.


So what lessons can marketers take from March Madness to apply to future campaigns, big or small?

Challenge your organization to expand beyond channels or tactics you’re comfortable with to connect with your users. And look for opportunities to create an experience: for the right campaign, where audiences will be engaged for extended periods of time, a campaign with a narrative that builds in anticipation and takes the audience on a journey can create a powerful connection to a brand. Finally, know what your audience is talking about, and how they feel about a topic through user research and analytics tools like we used in this blog, in order to create authentic, two-way conversations.


[Without further ado, the answer we’ve all been waiting for…]

So what does user research say about the rest of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament?

We used Crimson Hexagon’s algorithms and some filtering to determine how many fans--people rooting for specific teams on social media--are posting about the remaining teams. Based off of these metrics, we were able to determine the CHIEF prediction for the rest of the NCAA Tournament based off of total fans supporting each of the remaining teams. This method gave us the conclusion that the North Carolina Tarheels will be your 2017 NCAA Champions. The breakdown of the full bracket can be found below:


Do you agree with our bracket? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @agencyCHIEF!