Capital One maximizing March's madness

Capital One is one of just three NCAA “Corporate Championship” partners, the top tier of NCAA sponsorship, along with AT&T and Coca-Cola. Although March Madness doesn’t begin for more than a week, Capital One has already begun to roll out activations and advertisements.

Last March, more than two of every five Internet users visited a sports website, according to The Nielsen Company. No doubt, much of that traffic was driven by March Madness. That’s why Capital One says much of its advertising campaign during this year’s NCAA basketball tournament will be focused digitally.

“There’s this phenomenon on Thursdays and Fridays [during March Madness],” said Marc Mentry, senior vice president of brand marketing for Capital One. “So many people are still at work when the tournament starts. They’re watching the games online and checking their brackets.”

An MSN study conducted before last year’s March Madness confirms Mentry’s perspective. Eighty-six percent of people who said they planned to watch games last year said they would devote some time during their workday to check scores or brackets online. A quarter of those said they’d spend one to two hours at work following games on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament.

To reach those viewers, and other online viewers throughout March Madness, Capital One will have six online-only commercials this year to complement its two national television commercials that will be running, all of which feature Alec Baldwin and Charles Barkley.

“So many people consume digital channels, and we always want to be fresh,” Mentry said. “If they see one or two ads and it’s the same thing on every channel all the time, we know they get burnt out.”

In addition to the online-only ads, Capital One will engage fans through social media channels by allowing the team with the most vocal fans to take over Capital One’s own social media accounts.

Here’s how it works: Use the hashtag #rallycry any time you discuss your team on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. The team with the “loudest and proudest” fans will be featured prominently on Capital One’s social media websites, which will be bathed in that team’s colors.

“The hashtag is going to give us the ability to pull together not just our voice during March Madness, but the fans' voice,” Mentry said.

“It’s harvesting that voice and pride -- the loudest and proudest fans -- we’re going to be sweeping all that together and funneling it into a bit of a virtual scoreboard through our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channel.”

It’s that passion from fans that Mentry says keeps Capital One committed to college sports.

“What we call [March Madness] around here is appointment dealing. No one DVRs March Madness. People are watching live, and as a brand, we get to hit people in a place where they’re very passionate,” Mentry said.

Another obvious area for Capital One to activate its sponsorship was with regard to fans who are attending games. If fans purchase tournament tickets through the NCAA with their Capital One card and use code CAPONESAV, they receive 10 percent off select tickets.

“All year we’re talking about college sports, and we have this cool card in the Venture card with double miles and no restrictions to get where you want. You want to go somewhere like March Madness, and offering a discount if you use your Capital One card, it’s a natural fit,” Mentry said.

AdWeek puts the cost of Capital One’s NCAA sponsorship at north of $35 million annually.

Data from market researcher Scarborough shows Capital One reaches some key demographics during March Madness that might make that money well spent. A whopping 83 percent of viewers have used a credit card in the past three months, making tournament viewers 12 percent more likely than the average U.S. adult to use a credit card. In addition, nearly one-third of viewers have a household income of $100,000 or more.

Mentry says it’s a no-brainer.

“Having our brand associated with the NCAA and March Madness is one of those things you can’t pass up."