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Five ways brands can win over Gen Z during March Madness

Gen Zers might be less inclined to watch the Super Bowl than previous generations (this doesn’t mean they aren’t watching it by the tens of millions), but they love basketball more than anyone, millennials included. That’s great news for NCAA March Madness sponsors, but the trick - as ever - remains in winning over their much-divided attention.

Here are some tips on how brands can score big with college-age centennials.

Don’t Use Advertising to “Disrupt.” Use It to Heighten the Experience.

Gen Zers aren’t big fans of the direct approach. Don’t slam-dunk them from out of the blue with “how great” your new sports drink or line of apparel happens to be. Not only is that approach annoying (at least for marketing), but it also distracts from Gen Z’s experience of the game itself. With its average attention span of eight seconds, the absolute last thing Gen Z needs is even more information overload to navigate around. 

Rather than interrupt their experience of March Madness, use your advertising to complement and enhance the narrative of the tournament: Odds are you’ll achieve higher view rates in digital. Or take Wendy’s, which placed on-site messaging in student-reserved seating in one college arena, where students would likely be doing their post-game gnoshing. The point is to get Gen Zers to associate your brand with March Madness’s spirit of relentless, real-time competition - not to mention the celebration of college life in general. Do it right, and you’ll have them feeding from your corporate palm... Muahaha!

Make It Mobile. Keep It Social.

For those who think they can reach Gen Zers using the same old, tried-and-true TV platforms that have worked so well with millennials and Gen Xers... wake up and smell the roaming data plan. 96 percent of Gen Zers own smartphones and 63 percent own tablets, as reported by Shoppercentric. Moreover, a Bluecore survey reveals how 85 percent of “iGen” [Gen Z] uses social media to learn about new products, offerings and promos. If you’re going to earn any Zs this March, you’d best find them by connecting with them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and the like.

Give Them Ways of Contributing to the “Team Effort.”

More than anything, March Madness is an all-out celebration of competition. Whenever possible, make Gen Zers feel as though they’re actually helping their team win each game. Snapchat pulled this off nicely in 2017 when they built a feature on their app called “Trash Talk Story.” The feature gave students the age-old thrill of being able to diss on a rival college’s team - with the added bonus of having their smack-talk broadcasted to a potential audience of millions.

Let Gen Z Influencers Do the Influencing for You.

Gen Zer and younger millennials prefer learning about brands from people they actually feel like they know and trust on a personal level. When making their case to Gen Zers, brands ought to - whenever possible - use third-party influencers to whom Gen Z already looks up to. We’re not just talking about the stars of ginormous YouTube channels like Whistle Sports and Dude Perfect. We’re also talking about the hosts of not-so-lowly podcasts such as Eye on College Basketball, which consistently attracts stadium-sized student audiences.

Give Them an Easy Way to Win.

It’s a long way from here until the Final Four on March 31… but that doesn’t mean your brand can’t make Generation Z feel like winners all around. One way is to offer college students access to online promos and incentives for exclusive products and services (food, drink, entertainment, apparel and more) associated with their home teams. It’s a tried-and-true solution: 48 percent of younger respondents (ages 18 - 34) to a recent PRRI-US Consumer Survey reported using online promotional coupons. 33 percent of these same respondents also said they used mobile coupons - clearly a growing opportunity to connect. At the end of the day, exclusive deals can be a win-win proposition for brands and students alike.

Last year, roughly 70 million Americans participated in sports brackets for March Madness. The tournament registered an average daily viewership of nearly 10 million fans. It’s one of the all-star opportunities for advertising during any given sales year. The trick, as ever, is making sure you reach Gen Zers with the right message at the right time - and using the right platform.  

Marketers, you know the drill. And now that you know a little more about your audience, it’s time to put your skills to the test. Good luck this March - and nothing but net!

John Wheeler
John Wheeler
Managing Editor, Gen Z Insights

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