By Barry Janoff
March 17, 2015: If you are going into battle, even on the marketing landscape, it doesn't hurt to have proven warriors on your side.
AT&T, an official Corporate Champion partner of the NCAA, is revisiting its strategy of using basketball legends in marketing by featuring four of them to support the company's presence as a major player during March Madness and to tout its message of having the "strongest 4G LTE signal."
The four men all played in the NBA following stellar roles in past NCAA Tournaments: Shaquille O'Neal (LSU 1989-92), Julius Erving (Massachusetts 1968-71), Clyde Drexler (Houston 1980-83) and Christian Laettner (Duke 1988-92).
Two years ago, an AT&T spot featured hoops legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson, each of whom starred in college before going on to NBA Hall of Fame careers.
AT&T's multi-media campaign is anchored by a series of humorous spots in which the four icons bring their experiences and historical perspectives to the current games they are watching on TV, covering such issues as brackets, nicknames, upsets and Cinderella teams.
The campaign will also include and support such AT&T platforms as the U-Verse app, which enables people to watch live NCAA March Madness games on their TV, computer, tablet or smartphone.
A stand-alone integrated campaign, "Where Will You Be?" includes a TV spot, "Beyond Madness," which shows that you don't have to miss history — here, a No. 16 seed finally beating a No. 1 seed (vaguely hinted to be Kentucky) — thanks to the U-verse app.
AT&T's presence during Final Four weekend in Indianapolis (April 3-6), where the Final Four and Championship Game will be played in Lucas Oil Stadium, includes on-site ads, activations and as presenting sponsor of the March Madness Music Fest, (along with co-Corporate Champions Coca-Cola and Capital One), which includes the AT&T Block Party.
This year's campaign follows spots from the 2014 Tournament that featured techies Charlie and Frank, who worked 24/7 to improve AT&T networks, links and other applications to help connect fans with the games.
AT&T has been an official partner of the NCAA since 2007. Between 2005-2014, 279 different marketers totaled some $7.5 billion worth of national TV ad expenditures, according to marketing and research firm Kantar Media, New York.
The Top Ten spenders since 2004: General Motors ($83.2 million), AT&T ($61.9 million), Coca-Cola ($41.7 million), Anheuser-Busch ($41.6 million), Capital One ($41.2 million), Samsung ($31.8 million), Southwest Airlines ($31.5 million), Volkswagen ($29.3 million), Allstate ($28.5 million) and Unilever ($27.7 million).
Since 2004, the top two categories in terms of marketing spend are automotive ($216.9 million, 19.1% of total spend) and telecommunications ($128.5 million, 11.3%), led by AT&T, Dish and Sprint.
Media exposure to NCAA corporate partners reached a record $112.8 million in 2014 from such elements as in-arena signage, on-air graphics and verbal mentions and fan and experiential activations. Capital One led here with $29 million in media exposure, followed by AT&T ($23 million), aided by having the 2014 Final Four and Championship Game played in AT&T Stadium in North Texas.
Spend for a 30-second spot is expected to set a new record during Final Four games on Turner Broadcasting's TBS and the Championship Game on CBS. The average price of a 30-second spot during the 2014 Championship Game was a record $1.5 million, a 5% increase over 2013 ($1.42 million), according to Kantar.
TV spots are from BBDO Worldwide siblings BBDO NY and BBDO Atlanta.
In "Strong Nickname," the discussion of how players got their nicknames leads to Shaq, not so light on his feet but still jiggy with the moves, demonstrating the origin of his nickname "The Big Dance."
In "Strong Team," the legends agree that the strongest teams geret to cut down the nets. But Laettner, who is lounging on a hammock, adds that you can't just rest on your laurels, even though, as he says somewhat smugly, "I literally made this hammock out of laurels so that I could rest on them." He then explains as he points to spots on the mesh-laced hammock, "This is the '91 championship net, this is the '92 championship net, these red, white and blue ones are from my backyard when I was a kid." The others silently agree that, as the recent biopic on ESPN related, I Hate Christian Laettner.
"Bracket Curls" finds Drexler curling a weight made in the shape of March Madness brackets.
"Upset" sees the guys talking about underdogs coming through in clutch times, which leads Shaq to state that during the Tournament you should follow the Cinderella team, which he illustrates with a glass slipper and by making a noise like a clopping horse, much to the dismay of the others.
The spot for U-verse, "Beyond Madness," encourages people to get the app so that even if they are away from their TV they won't miss history, as in this commercial when a No. 16 seed defeats a No. 1 seed for the first time in NCAA Tournament history — with the losing team looking a lot like Kentucky.