It’s that wonderful time of year again, March Madness! When families, friends, and coworkers all get together to casually gamble and all throw $10 into a pool. When 12’s beat 5’s and mess up your bracket. When you lose one game and are sent packing. The few weeks when “Cinderella” is uttered most throughout the year (except, perhaps, for those parents of young children). And, what appears to be a new tradition: Spike Lee, Charles Barkley, and Samuel L. Jackson road trip across the country.
Most of these commercials center around gently making fun of Sir Charles, and I must say, the guy certainly has a good sense of humor. Capital One has long used a number of celebrities in its credit card advertising. Pulling Barkley in for the tournament commercials is a bit of genius. And while I’m not sure I’d want to see this series last forever, it is quite a bit better than some of the other March Madness commercials. I’m looking at you Buffalo Wild Wings.
Commercials around the NCAA Tournament have often been more like those that Buffalo Wild Wings offers, one-off commercials focusing on people’s love of the tournament and selling their services as a way to express that love (come spend the next two and half weeks in generic sports bar neglecting your loved ones). These get old when you’ve seen them three times, if not once. Though the road trip commercials are about the tournament as well (last year, a trip across the country to The Annapolis for the Final Four), they’re a narrative that seems particularly apt for March Madness. A serial commercial, if only loosely related, for a serial event.
The Superbowl is a one-off game (often a blowout) that advertisers spend heavily on to make one, or the big spenders maybe three, commercials. March Madness is a two and half week drama that keeps people on the edge of their seats and coming back for more. A serial narrative seems particularly fit for this type tournament. Advertisers have plenty of slots to fill with commercials. With all the talk of Cinderella, underdogs, buzzer beaters, missed shots, and could-have-beens, it’s a two and half week novel of blood sweat and tears written by 64 (or 68) teams. Lose and go home. Advertisers have the time to create a story to go along with it.
Perhaps Capital One is onto something and we’ll see a shift to a different type of commercial to accompany the tournament. I’m not advocating an “I watch it for the commercials” scenario. Like I said, March Madness is an inherently different event. But I wouldn’t mind some more entertaining commercials if they are going to be imposed with increasing frequency through what seems like ever more TV timeouts, mandatory replay breaks, and CBS’s apparent determination to slowly drag Selection Sunday out to grueling six hour slog (they really have to expect the bracket leaks at some point). March Madness makes a lot of money for a lot of people (not necessarily the players), and advertising is a big part of those dollars (hence the two hour Selection Sunday show). So, if we’re going to be stuck watching commercials made explicitly for March Madness countless times over the course of the tournament, at least work at making them creative. Tell me a story and drop your name in at the end. You’ve got the time to do it and there’s a wonderful backdrop to work with.
For those of you who have made it this far, here’s something to get you excited.