3 Questions to Help You Boost Your March Madness Social Advertising Strategy

In 1939, educator, coach, and athletic administrator, Henry V. Porter, coined the term “March Madness” when referring to the tournament’s humble beginnings in Illinois. Porter said, “A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” He was right. At the height of the second World War, basketball trumped the horrors overseas and united a state. Nearly 80 years later, March Madness’ influence remains, albeit on a much larger scale: 17.8 million people tuned in to watch last year’s National Championship game on TV.

But that doesn’t mean TV advertising is the only way to tap into this enthusiastic audience.

In a society obsessed with the second screen, those tune-in numbers can mean significant opportunities in the social space. To put this in the context of live events, in 2015, Facebook and Twitter generated 350 million impressions during March Madness—a 45% increase year-over-year. In 2016, the conversation around March Madness on Facebook increased 40%.

For you, this means that this active and engaged audience is well within reach—you just need a social advertising strategy that will get you in front of them.

As you’re crafting your March Madness social advertising strategy, here are three questions you should ask yourself:

Which Social Channel(s) Should I Use?

Which channel you use depends on your goals, but we recommend focusing on Twitter and Facebook, at least to start. Here’s why:

Twitter’s always been the king of the second screen—after all, 97% of Twitter users have several screens on when watching TV. In turn, it has unveiled products to help you align with its compelling, real-time content. For example, Twitter Amplify lets you append pre-roll video ads to video content promoted by Amplify partners like ESPN (see example below). You can also plan a series of Promoted Tweets to coincide with big moments by leveraging Brand Networks’ rules-based trigger system (see Pro Tip).

As for Facebook, its unparalleled reach makes it a must-have for just about any social campaign. But its commitment to sports, made evident by the emergence of products like Facebook Sports Stadium, makes it that much more appealing to advertisers looking to get in front of March Madness’ massive audience.

 Pro Tip: To take full advantage of March Madness’ real-time nature, leverage Brand Networks’ award-winning Open Signals technology. With Open Signals, you can create rules-based triggers to launch social ads coinciding with predefined events. For example, you could set a rule that triggers your ads when a particular team wins a game, or an individual player makes a game-winning shot.

How Should I Be Targeting?

When it comes to targeting, let Twitter’s Tailored Audiences and Facebook’s Custom Audiences serve as your foundation. While the respective channels’ versions vary slightly, fundamentally both of these audience options let you target people who’ve shown interest in your brand, and/or, in this case, March Madness. For example, if you ran a March Madness campaign last year on Twitter, you can create a Tailored Audience of Twitter users who engaged with that content. Likewise, if you have a page on your website dedicated to the tournament, you could create a Facebook Custom Audience based on people who visited that page.

While custom audiences can generate above-average results as stand-alone targeting sets, we recommend layering native targeting like interests and locations on top of them to focus your targeting even more. Also consider event targeting on Twitter, which creates an umbrella around all keywords and hashtags associated with an event and allows you to stay in front of the users who are talking about it. In this case, your audience would be comprised of Twitter users who engaged with your March Madness campaign last year and are active in the conversation this year.

Pro Tip: Once your campaign is up and running, take high-performing audiences and create lookalike audiences from them. To do this, just provide the channel a seed audience (your pre-built custom audience), and it’ll comb its database to find users similar to the proven audiences you’ve provided. This is an effective and cost-efficient way to scale your campaign.

What Should My Budget, Bid, & Pacing Look Like?

When it comes to budgeting, a slow release during your campaign is a safe and effective approach (i.e. a budget of $10K for a game is divided evenly. So, $2.5K per quarter). This will improve efficiency and allow you to capitalize on unexpected moments later in the game you’d otherwise be unable leverage if you spent your budget up front.

While standard delivery works for most, some campaigns will call for a different approach like accelerated spending. Whether you use Facebook’s accelerated delivery or Twitter’s accelerated pacing, both aim to spend your budget as quickly as possible. This is ideal for March Madness’ tendency for big, often unforeseen moments. For example, a retailer selling National Championship gear could launch a campaign with accelerated delivery as soon as the final whistle blows. This will ensure its ads are served to users as quickly as possible when attention and excitement are at their peaks.

Facebook Accelerated Delivery
Source: Medium

You can also leverage reach and frequency buying. (If taking this approach, book your R/F campaign well in advance as costs will increase due to competition.) Since you can’t control pacing with R/F campaigns, we recommend running an auction campaign in tandem to gain control over a portion of your campaign.

And when it comes to bidding, be aggressive, but don’t get carried away. We recommend bidding slightly above the channel’s suggested bid at first to make sure you’re beating the competition and ensuring delivery of your ads so that you get a quick, accurate reading of your campaign’s performance. As the campaign continues, you can gradually ramp down your bids and start finding the sweet spot that gives you strong delivery but also keeps your costs in check.

Did You Know: March Madness social ad campaigns run through the Brand Networks Platform can leverage Optimize Now to maximize the cost and performance of your ads. Designed to respond to constantly shifting ad auctions, Optimize Now tests new bids day and night while spending budgets in full. It will also boost your budgets for top-performing ads and remove poor performers to generate impressive results.

Data-Driven March Madness Social Advertising Success

Here are three real-world examples of March Madness social advertising in action:

  • Facebook & Twitter Case Study: Wanting to prove the efficacy of sports-synced social advertising, Brand Networks ran an internal test on Facebook and Twitter with Open Signals. The test included f two groups: an always-on control group that featured apparel of high-seed teams, and a group that featured apparel of “Cinderella” teams. The latter group’s ads would be triggered by Open Signals when the team took the lead. The real-time ads on Facebook and Twitter that leveraged Open Signals outperformed the control group with a CTR 428% and 110% higher than the control groups, respectively.
  • Facebook Case Study: A leading telecommunications company partnered with Brand Networks to execute a March Madness social ad campaign to drive mass reach and save costs. The campaign revolved around five video Page Posts aimed at a target audience comprised of fans, interest, people engaging with tournament content, and more. Using the Brand Networks Platform, the five-day campaign reached 40M unique users. What’s more, the company saved more than $162K compared to its benchmark average.
  • Twitter Case Study: A global retailer partnered with Brand Networks to run a Promoted Tweets campaign during March Madness to drive mass engagement at an efficient cost. The campaign targeted specific Twitter users based on keywords, interests, handles, and hashtags related to each team. Despite Twitter’s competitive environment during the tournament, the campaign was able to generate over 115K engagements and 8K interactions. Impressively, the campaign’s cost-per-engagement (CPE) was 40% lower than Twitter’s average during the tournament.


Just because people are watching March Madness on TV, it doesn’t mean TV advertising is the only way to reach them. It’s important to understand this because there’s still plenty of social engagement to be won. People’s attention is divided, and through social, you can engage with targeted audiences on the second screen, and generate powerful results at a fraction of the cost of a traditional TV spot. So don’t limit yourself—give TV-synced social a try this month and see if it works for you.

There’s still time to get your campaign ready for March Madness.
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