MBPT Spotlight: Super Bowl vs. March Madness: Which Is Better For Your Brand?

Everybody knows that the Super Bowl represents a massive opportunity for advertisers, combining the country’s biggest sporting event with an audience that’s uniquely tuned in to advertising content.

And while no singular game during March Madness comes close to the Super Bowl in terms of reach, the sheer number of games provides a distinct opportunity for advertisers to create highly-tailored, often-evolving campaigns that reinforce messages repeatedly over the course of the tournament.

So which of these two events is better for your brand?

To get an idea, Extreme Reach conducted a series of surveys to determine brand lift for all of the automobile brands that aired a TV commercial during the Super Bowl and the Sweet 16/Elite 8 rounds of March Madness.

Here’s what we found.

March Madness provided more brand lift. The average brand effectiveness score (measured by the percent increase in likelihood to purchase) for automobile brands during the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds of March Madness was approximately +59.7%, compared to +4.2% at this year’s Super Bowl. This is a pretty significant difference, particularly when you consider how much more money is spent on each ad at the Super Bowl.

There are several likely factors that contributed to these findings:

Repeat exposure: The Sweet 16 and Elite 8 included a total of 12 games. If viewers watched several of these games—as many did—they were likely to see the same car commercial dozens of times, which helps to reinforce the message and cement brand lift. 

Receptive audience: March Madness viewers are likely to be male, with a higher-than-average annual household income. This makes the March Madness audience an ideal one for car manufacturers to target. In contrast, the Super Bowl audience has a much more diverse composition, making it a more challenging audience to connect with effectively. 

More customized: Because March Madness offers lots of games and a relatively niche audience, advertisers were more likely to customize commercials to appeal to basketball fans. We found that roughly one in four commercials were specifically tailored for a March Madness audience (e.g., basketball footage, sounds, logos, etc.), which can help brands forge stronger connections thanks to the increased relevancy of the creative.

Less risky: Given that a 30-second spot at this year’s Super Bowl cost $4.5 million (which is roughly $3 million more than one costs during the NCAA Finals), most brands simply couldn’t afford more than one commercial. This means that they only got one shot to make an impact. March Madness advertisers on the other hand had dozens of less-expensive opportunities. As a result, a lot of Super Bowl advertisers took bigger risks to stand out from the crowd with more dramatic creative. Sometimes this strategy paid off, but a few brands received negative brand lift scores at the Super Bowl.

Luxury vehicle brands outperformed at March Madness and underperformed at the Super Bowl. Surprisingly, six of the top seven automobile brands (in terms of total brand lift) featured during March Madness were luxury brands, with an average brand lift score of +72.3% (versus +53.5% for non-luxury brands). This is in stark contrast to the Super Bowl, where the non-luxury category performed much better on average.

Audience matters. The overall brand lift scores for advertisers at these two events don’t tell the full story. Digging deeper, it becomes clear that some of the brands that didn’t score as well with a general audience achieved excellent results with specific audience segments. For example, while most luxury car brands had low overall brand lift scores at the Super Bowl, when we examined their scores by income, we found that several performed very well with audiences in the highest income bracket, which was likely their primary objective. 

Key Takeaway

So back to the original question—should brands looking to go big choose to spend their marketing dollars on the Super Bowl or March Madness? 

As always, it depends. If your brand is primarily concerned with reaching an extremely large, broad audience, the Super Bowl is the obvious pick. But if the goal is to generate true brand lift, and your product is a solid match for an audience largely comprised of men with higher incomes, March Madness is probably a better option.

Extreme Reach, is a leading provider of video ad solutions. The company is headquartered in Needham, Mass., with offices in 15 cities across North America.