Brands tip off NCAA direct marketing campaigns

College basketball fans are enjoying their favorite time of year, the month-long NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, commonly known as March Madness. Intel, CBS Sports and H&R Block are taking advantage of the high level of interest to interact with consumers through a mix of channels, including more mobile marketing than previous years.

For Intel, the tournament is the last event in a series of three — after the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards — that the company is using to bolster an integrated marketing campaign. The effort is a part of Intel’s overall branding initiative, “Sponsors of tomorrow,” which premiered in May 2009 to promote the company’s Core product launches. The campaign ties online advertising, social and mobile with television and radio ad buys.

“We try to find an appropriate mix to be able to touch our audience wherever they are,” said David Veneski, senior digital strategist for the Americas marketing group at Intel. “I don’t think you can run away from TV and do all digital, and you can’t do all digital and no TV. You have to have a media mix.”

The NCAA tournament teams were selected March 14. The first tournament contest is scheduled for March 16, and the gauntlet of games continues until the championship on April 5. According to Unicast’s 2010 NCAA Basketball Tournament Fever Survey, 83% of fans will watch the games on TV, 44% will go online and just 10% will use a mobile device.

Intel is tying the tournament to its loyalty program. Its March Madness initiative features a “Core Moments” microsite at and Intel’s loyalty site, Intel is encouraging consumers to share their favorite basketball or Intel-related moment on the two sites, which also feature a live feed of consumers’ posts about Intel and March Madness on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

To drive conversation and interest, Intel is giving away one laptop a day throughout the tournament. The company is urging consumers to enter their e-mail address or their mobile phone number on the mobile site to opt-in to the promotion.

Veneski expects most of the conversation to be about basketball, but said “if we have the opportunity to intercept a conversation about Intel, we will do so.”

Veneski said that 2010 will be the first year that mobile is core to Intel’s overall marketing strategy. While the company ran some mobile marketing tests at the end of last year, it has fully integrated its mobile strategy into the company’s marketing campaigns this year. For March Madness, this means a mobile-enabled version of the microsite where the laptop giveaway will be run, as well as the use of mobile banner ads to promote Intel.

“Mobile is highly important to Intel both from a technology perspective and a marketing vehicle,” said Veneski. “It is important for us to extend into this platform, as more consumers are accessing content there.”

H&R Block is also using the popularity of the tournament to attract consumers as tax time nears. The tax service is running banner ads on’s “2010 Hoops Hysteria” page against videos of basketball games. The banner ad’s calls to action, “Who doesn’t love free?” and “Looking for Tax Breaks?” link to H&R Block’s menu of services page.

A rollover ad lets consumers pick from a drop down menu of potential categories they could use for tax breaks, such as “homeowner” or “business owner,” as well as a list of potential deductions displayed over the basketball videos. Once a user visits the site, he or she must share an e-mail address to try any of the services.

CBS Sports’ mobile division is also increasing its outreach around March Madness this year. In partnership with, CBS Sports and the NCAA, CBS Sports Mobile has updated its NCAA March Madness on Demand service, which launched last year, for the 2010 tournament.

This year, CBS is distributing two versions, a paid premium option, as well as a free light version. The premium app offers live streaming video of the games. Last year the video was available over a wi-fi connection, but for 2010, the live video will also be delivered over the mobile Web. CBS Mobile is also offering live video through the CBS Mobile Channel on FLO TV.

“March Madness is a marquee event for us to reach both casual game enthusiasts and also the more die hard fans,” said Rob Gelick, SVP and GM of CBS Mobile. “For us it is an extension of what we are doing with broadcast and online.”

Both apps, which were created by MLB Advanced Media, feature score updates and on-demand video clips, as well as the option to participate in CBS pools and connect to Facebook and Twitter. The goal of the network, which airs the games on television, is to grow CBS Sports’ mobile audience during the tournament, as well as throughout the year. According to Unicast, of the online and mobile fans following the NCAA Tournament coverage, 69% will do so on, 42% will visit Yahoo Sports, 29% will check and 26% plan to visit

“In general, we are trying to grow the audience of people who watch the games through our CBS Interactive brands,” added Gelick.

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