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March Madness
March 23, 2021
By Brett Grischo


I’ve watched enough of the NCAA men’s tournament over the past four days that I don’t need to ask Kantar who the big spenders are on TV advertising during March Madness. Some I like, some I don’t. Most importantly, do they work? Who knows?

I actually like the eleventy seven thousand commercials documenting the bromances between Charles Barkley, Spike Lee, Samuel Jackson and their buddies (Magic, Jim Nance, Larry Bird, etc.) for Capitol One. I’d be happy if I never ever again have to see and hear Jennifer Garner ask what’s in my wallet, so these have been a nice change of pace. Not to mention I’m happy for my great friends Larry and Kari’s son Gavin for his role as young Jim Nance in this spot:



I am getting super tired of the AT&T girl-next-door Lily hawking services although I kind of enjoyed her tips regarding watching and understanding hoops. This one is my favorite:



I miss Phil from AT&T’s spots two years ago during March Madness. I think Phil and Lily would make for an awesome couple. Perhaps they should contact each other via their AT&T network.

Coca-Cola and all their in-game announcer-read, weird flavorful statements with a banner across the screen couldn’t be more awkward. Luckily I can’t find an example on YouTube so I don’t have to subject myself to any extra exposure to this poor copywriting. Trust me, they are weird and I can tell the announcers cringe while reading them.

State Farm has been kinda fun with their spots featuring Chris Paul fearing disaster only to be surprised. The little girl riding the bike is awesome.


Also, kudos to State Farm for giving Pat Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers a much needed (rolling eyes) celebrity boost with cameos from Paul Rudd and Drake.



Anybody know if the Turbo Tax Free Edition is free? I do, because that spot has run a million times.


I have to wonder if the media buyers are considering frequency and ad wear-out. Sure seems like they could mix up the creative rotation and also spread the buy out to other programming. I know repetition is education. I have to tell my kids something ten times before they do it, but do I need to be told Turbo Tax is free; ten times?

I’m going strictly on what I remember seeing but here is a better example of how to handle the frequency of a big buy during the tournament. The insurance companies have sooooooooo much money. Seems like all the best ad campaigns are in that industry. Anyway, as bizarre as they are, I’m a big fan of the Progressive Motaur series. I see the same spot just a few times and then another one in the series pops up. Here is my favorite:


I can’t decide if I like the UberEats commercials featuring Leslie Jones. I like her, but why do I feel like calling DoorDash after seeing her spots?



Sticking with SNL comics, Rocket Mortgage must have had a much bigger production budget than UberEats. These Tracy Morgan ‘Better Be Certain’ spots are silly but they are entertaining just from their array of different scenes.


Many of these commercials were made for debuting in the SuperBowl and its smart of the agencies to run them during the NCAA tournament as well. Gotta get more bang for those expensive production and media placement costs!

There are way more national spots that have been running during the tournament but these are the ones that have been beaten into my brain and burned into my retinas. Some to the point where I’m irritated by the advertiser. Maybe it’s the media buyer in me regarding frequency, but I’m a consumer too.

I think the best spot I’ve seen during the first two rounds of the tournament ran with the perfect amount of frequency. CollegeInvest ran this smack dab in the middle of the tourney over the weekend.


The local spot breaks in the tournament are few and far between but when they do run, they are memorable because everyone knows it’s a local advertiser. We actually don’t need to run an obnoxious amount of times (I’m talking to you national TV buyers). It helps to have a high quality spot, like CollegeInvest as opposed to for example, yet another cringeworthy local law firm ad.

Of course, the true measure of a great TV commercial is not if it entertained, but rather if it achieved the desired outcome. Did it raise brand awareness in a positive way? Did it boost sales? Did it change behavior? If it did entertain, did it also inform and educate in a way intended by the marketing strategy to help the client achieve their overall goals?

My guess with the frequency of these national TV spots is a combination of me watching waaaaaaaaaay too much basketball over the weekend, the media buyers relying too much on antiquated Reach & Frequency formulas at the expense of creativity and common sense, and perhaps being a little numb to how much money they have to spend.

When every penny feels like a million dollars, like it does for our client CollegeInvest, we have to consider all the alternatives, weigh the opportunity costs and be thorough and clever enough to break through the clutter.

The best news of all is we know it works. CollegeInvest sends us data regularly so we all know where they sit based on their overall goals. This is why its important for media planners and buyers to understand their clients’ business goals, much less how that pertains to marketing and advertising before it gets down to specific media metrics. We are lucky to have great clients like CollegeInvest that work with us in this way.

Accountability is a fulfilling requirement in our world. As Tracy Morgan says, we better be certain we know what the heck we are doing. Explore Communications will never get complacent and follow ancient media standards of operation that can result in overkill. Please give Lily a break. Phil is waiting.

One response to “March Madness”

  1. Good point that some of the most creative new campaigns out there are from insurance companies. They need to over-deliver because of their, let’s face it, boring businesses. Pharmaceutical advertising should take a lesson.

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