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Bruce Horovitz, @brucehorovitz, USA TODAY

March Madness doesn't have the heft of the Super Bowl. Nor the scope of the recent Olympic Games. But, dang, marketers big and small are going absolutely gaga over it this year.

Never mind that even after the much-awaited 68-team bracket is revealed on Sunday, many folks still won't be able name a single player in the NCAA Basketball Championship tournament that stretches for nearly three weeks on TBS, CBS, TNT and TruTV. But who gives a hoop?

Bracket frenzy is upon us.

March Madness is a marketing mix that advertisers crave but can rarely find. It has wide appeal to a very young and very desirable audience. It's live sports -- one of the few things that's TiVo proof. And March Madness is a social-media gabfest. "Twitter will be on fire during the tournament," says George Belch, marketing professor at San Diego State University.

Perhaps that's why the tournament generated more than $1.15 billion in ad revenue last year and should easily top that figure this year, according to Kantar Media. "March Madness is the right time, right place and continues to grow with no signs of peaking," says Rob Prazmark, CEO of 21 Sports & Entertainment Marketing Group.

That's why March Madness marketers are:

Debuting new ads. Burger King's new two-for-$5 TV spot stars five-time NBA All-Star Chris Webber. Papa John's has new spots featuring Jim Nantz of CBS Sports. Audi has new ads starring comedian Ricky Gervais. Pizza Hut debuts spots to promote its WingStreet wings featuring ESPN's Scott Van Pelt.

Devising new apps. AT&T is co-sponsor of the NCAA March Madness Live app, which provides access to over 150 hours of live streaming on Windows and Android versions of the app.

Rebranding hotels. Bud Light has set up temporarily re-branded "But Light Hotels' in Super Bowl cities for years. Now, the brew will do it with March Madness, by setting up a Bud Light Hotel in downtown Dallas. It will have live concerts and celebrity players, and it even will have Bud Light-branded signage, pillow cases, soaps and key cards.

Giving away eats. Hooters on March 20 and 21 gives away fried pickles to folks who download coupons from site. On March 27 and 28, it offers 10 free wings to folks who buy 10 and have the coupon.

Hosting concerts. A three-day concert fest in Dallas will be hosted one day each by AT&T, Coke Zero and Capital One. Headliner for the Capital One JamFest: Bruce Springsteen.


March 14, 2014




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