Customer Experience Takeaways from March Madness Promotions

Were myriad promotions #1 seeds or did they miss the field of 64?

By Alex Ain

With March Madness in the books, we thought it apropos to delve into how well brands used marketing promotions around the games. Two members of our team, Alex Ain and Jenna Chodos, discuss their perspectives on these promotions.

Q. Which March Madness promotions were most memorable to you?

Dish TV logo.

Alex: The Dish TV promotion pitting popular TV shows in a bracket- style competition to determine the greatest show ever was a fun, nostalgic take on March Madness. And, the promotion became more memorable as the bracket progressed. For starters, it soon became clear those “voting” for shows were disproportionately much older boomers. How else to explain Castle upsetting Breaking Bad as a preferred show? Unfortunately, the Dish TV promotion also became memorable for lack of follow-through. I never received bracket updates nor any emails about subscribing to Dish TV, despite my indicating I was not a Dish TV customer and specifically opting-in for future contact.

Jenna: The new Buffalo Wild Wings campaign “Jewel Stool” might take the cake as most memorable for a couple of reasons: 1) It evoked great memories of watching March Madness at Buffalo Wild Wings in the past, and 2) the premise is comically absurd. I will spare readers my poor explanation and let you see it for yourself. But in essence it connects something seemingly unrelated to March Madness directly to Buffalo Wild Wings in a funny and timely manner.

Q. Have you actually ever participated in a March Madness promotion?

Jenna: Now that I think of it, I’ve never been compelled to interact with them (beyond the ESPN brackets themselves). I typically view them more as ads than as promotions since most don’t tend to be very interactive. All I see is my email getting clogged by companies using March Madness to advertise, rarely tying it back to what March Madness is all about: basketball!

Alex: Aside from ESPN’s bracket, and following the Dish TV promo, I haven’t been inclined to participate. Few promotions seem to actually tie the games back to interaction with the brand or an experience.

Q. What is something you are looking for in a March Madness promotion?

The Buffalo Wild Wings logo.

Jenna: I’m looking for promotions that lead back to the exciting experience of watching the games. As I mentioned, I like the Buffalo Wild Wings campaign because it ties something seemingly irrelevant to watching basketball. Will I purchase a Jewel Stool? Obviously not. But I do absolutely crave Buffalo Wild Wings now while watching the games!

Alex: I’m looking for something unique, fun and with some sort of tangible interaction with the brand. Almost everyone fills out a bracket and/or watches the games. In an age of Pokemon Go and 5G (on the horizon), it’s disappointing not to see brands using augmented reality and other interactive promotions.

Q. What is something you dislike about March Madness promotions?

Alex: Most promotions now require you to download an app or scan a QR code to receive the benefit. I don’t understand why brands won’t just offer the deals to everyone and make them easier to access. Wouldn’t this approach be better than printing promos on cups? I’m talking to you, Wendy’s!

I don’t want to download an app just to get discounts on food. And, how is that really tied to March Madness anyway? Some fast food promotions relied on partners like Grubhub for deals on delivery, as they are not destinations for enjoying the games. Taco Bell, Qdoba, Schlotzky’s, and White Castle all offered percentage discounts for delivery. But how are these food promotions tied to March Madness? In addition to failing to link promotions to basketball, very little is done on an interactive basis in the multitude of promos labeled “March Madness.” In the end, brands simply offer too many promos with no true draw. For instance, Buick dealers offered “Sweet 16% off of MSRP.”

Jenna: When the promotions have nothing to do with basketball and just use the bracket-style to promote something completely unrelated, what’s the point? If I get a promo that says “March Madness” with no linking to basketball at all, I will likely disregard it.

Q. In the end, what makes March Madness promotions so maddening?

Alex: March Madness promotions and the resulting customer experiences are extremely limited in terms of brand interaction and activation.

Jenna: We realized how frequently we came across March Madness promotions that a) have nothing to do with the event, and b) do not really offer an appealing or effective experience. As a result, there’s definitely still more opportunity for brand marketers to creatively capitalize on this ubiquitous event.

Q. Lastly, who did you have winning your bracket?

Jenna: Duke – needless to say, my bracket did impressively bad; thank goodness I’m a marketer and not an odd-maker!

Alex: Kansas every year in one bracket and North Carolina in this year’s “reality” bracket. Ouch – not even close, better luck next year. Congrats to Virginia for winning the NCAA Championship and Happy Days for winning the Dish TV competition!

Reach out to Alex Ain to discuss how to make your next promotion more effective.