Full Court Press: Why Marketers Should Look to Programmatic DOOH for March Madness Success

By Hector Gonzalez, Chief Revenue Officer, US & LatAm, Hivestack

Few sporting events deliver the drama and thrills of the NCAA’s March Madness competition. Since its inception, this frenetic few weeks of basketball has captured the attention of a wide range of sports fans, with an average of 10.7 million viewers tuning in to the men’s tournament in 2022, an increase of 13% on the previous year.

With almost a third of US sports fans stating they’d watch at least one game, brands need their campaigns to stand out during the whirlwind weeks in which the competition takes place.

However, the tournament poses a few unique challenges that sets it apart from other tentpole events. Not only does it regularly throw up the unexpected, like underdogs VCU Rams making the Final Four in 2011, but with games (and fans) spread across the US, marketers have to reach audiences and tailor messaging on a local, or even hyper-local level.

This means the pressure is on for marketers to run campaigns that are highly targeted, flexible, and visually attention grabbing. Brands wanting to dominate the paint during this year’s tournament need look no further than programmatic digital out of home (DOOH).

Nothing but net – Optimizing campaign spend

Buying out of home (OOH) ad slots through a direct purchasing method is a lengthy process. Campaign flight time and creative has to be locked weeks in advance via an insertion order. These longer-term buying cycles can be effective for brands looking to handpick inventory, activate big brand plays or one-off promotions, such as seasonal shopping events. However, once the first tip off happens, there are little to no adjustments that can be made to a campaign.

By contrast, programmatic DOOH offers marketers the option of budget fluidity and campaign agility, giving them the chance to keep up with the relentless pace of March Madness. The ease and speed of programmatic purchasing through a demand side platform (DSPs) means campaigns can be run fluidly, and buying of ad slots is automated by the parameters set by marketers, such as budget per impression allowing for greater control.

It’s this data-driven approach that enables marketers to optimize their campaigns by pivoting spend in-flight. Whether that means harnessing insights to redistribute budget to more productive inventory, or switching out campaign creative to reflect which teams are still in the running for the championship, this flexibility ensures that activations achieve maximum impact.

Similarly, programmatic DOOH’s data-driven approach gives marketers the ability to granulary target audiences, turning DOOH from a one-to-many to one-to-select many approach. Campaigns can also be triggered by real-time audience patterns using privacy-safe mobile location data, behavioral traits, or movement patterns. Once a threshold of target audience members is in the vicinity of certain screens, for example, messaging relating to an upcoming game could be triggered.

Buzzer beaters – Capitalizing on key moments via programmatic DOOH

Any three-pointer, time out, or last-gasp block can tip the outcome of a game. It’s moments like these that make March Madness so exhilarating, and marketers now have the option to keep their ads relevant throughout the game, minute by minute, as well as the championship overall.

Marketers can leverage programmatic DOOH to capitalize on these key events through the use of moment-based triggers. Selected during the campaign planning phase, custom API triggers allow specific messaging to be run in response to on-court action. These triggers can even be set off by granular in-game moments, such as a team winning, time-outs, or even a specific player scoring a three-pointer in the final minute of the game. For fans, making brackets and/or bettings on the outcomes of games is part of the March Madness experience. Fantasy sports companies, for example, might use triggers to inform fans of changing odds, promote the final bracket deadlines, and more.

Not only do environmental triggers ensure that messaging stays up to date automatically, it also increases contextual relevance, making campaigns as impactful as possible on audiences.

Using your bench – Using programmatic DOOH to bring an omnichannel experience

With so much going on during the championship, it’s no wonder that fans find their attention dragged all over the place. While the NCAA has attempted to remedy this by introducing dual-screen watching within its app, more fans than ever are using a second screen when tuning into their favorite sporting events. Last year, nearly half of NFL fans intended to use a second screen. At the same time, watching sports is a shared activity, and many choose to watch their team in sports bars, or other screening events.

Successful marketing during March Madness means being able to reach fans across all environments, whether it be through CTV capabilities, social, online, or offline with consistent messaging. Programmatic DOOH can play a pivotal role in bridging the online and offline to create a truly omnichannel experience.

The goal of omnichannel marketing is to engage and re-engage audiences throughout the sales funnel with consistent messaging. The targeting, retargeting and data-driven capabilities of programmatic DOOH make it an ideal fit for this multi-channel approach.

March Madness and other tentpole sporting events are rightly seen as key opportunities for every marketer. At the same time, these events are always competitive, and grabbing the attention of audiences can be tough. As marketers look towards the tournament ahead, programmatic DOOH should be first on their team sheet. Its combination of head-turning creative, granular targeting, campaign flexibility and omnichannel integration will ensure brands dominate the boards.