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The 3 Most Important #MarchMadness Moments for Digital Marketers (Rounds 1 & 2)

For sports fans, March might be one of the most wonderful times of the year (queue the Andy Williams Xmas song). It marks the beginning of the most maddening and unpredictable month in sports, due in large part to March Madness

We all start by trying our hand at filling out the best bracket possible (note that I didn’t say “perfect bracket” because we all know that those unicorns don’t exist) and from there, the first week of March Madness is all about the moments: The moment that a school from the middle of nowhere, from that conference you’ve never heard of, takes down a powerhouse. The moment that a buzzer beater falls through the net. The moment that a Cinderella team is hit with reality by a blue-blood.

March is about these incredible moments, and more importantly, how we react to them.

There isn’t a more exciting time to be on Twitter than times like these to capture reactions and emotion, which create prime real-estate for digital marketers to read, react, and in some cases, help fans cope with disappointment.

Let’s take a look at the most engaging moments from the first two rounds of the tournament and analyze how some savvy marketers took advantage of them.

1. Little Rock’s improbable comeback and upset

While tracking #MarchMadness, “March Madness,” #NCAAtournament, “NCAA tournament,” “bracket,” and “NCAA tourney” on Twitter, I found that the most engaging time period between both rounds was when the 12th seeded Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans overcame a late 13-point deficit over the 5th seeded Purdue Boilermakers. The Trojans eventually pulled out the win over the Boilermakers in double overtime. While this might not have been the “biggest” upset of the first round, it inspired the most sustained reaction on Twitter.

Thirteen minutes of game time can easily cover 40 minutes in real time—which is how long it took for the Trojans to win after their comeback started with about 3 minutes left in regulation. This sustained period of in-game excitement provided a field day for sports fans on Twitter, plus digital marketers.

march madness peaks

Zoomph’s Activity Over Time Chart reflects the three major peaks of engagement during the game, with engagement levels reaching as high as 700 tweets/minute.

At this point on Day 1 of the tourney, we already saw another 12th seed beat a 5th seed in the Yale vs. Baylor game. We all know to pick a 12 over 5 in our brackets, but to have two actually pull it off in the the same year?

Top Marketer Reactions

Using our Zoomph feed, we found the brands that hopped into the conversation and attracted the most buzz with their posts. The following brands generated the most ZPointsTM, a proprietary influencer discovery score. Notice how these brands remained in tune with how the game unfolded, attracting attention by riffing off real-time moments.


2. When David beat Goliath

Next up was definitely the BIGGEST upset of the first round, and maybe ever.

On Day 2 of the first round, 15th seeded Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders took down 2nd seeded Michigan State Spartans. Millions put their money behind the Spartans to make it through to the Final Four, if not win the National Championship.

Instead, the Blue Raiders dominated from start to finish (the Spartans never had a lead in the game). For context: a team that had failed to beat a Top 10 team in 22 tries suddenly shocked one the most storied programs in college basketball.

As the upset drew closer and closer, we collected tweets at a rate of 26 tweets/second which was a higher rate than the national conversation surrounding the US Elections at the time – take THAT Donald!

If you were one of the few thousand people out there with a perfect bracket after Day 1, it was certainly busted after this one, as reflected in the top fan tweets that our feed collected:


Top Marketer Reactions

There were a few brands out there who were able to creatively help us all cope with our now-useless brackets by directing our attention towards much more pleasant matters:


3. When we all fed our brackets to the paper shredder

Other major moments from the first weekend included Yale upsetting Baylor on Day 1, Stephen F. Austin beating West Virginia on Day 2, and, of course, the emotional roller coaster that was perennial Cinderella Northern Iowa. They started strong in Round 1 by sinking a half-court buzzer beater against Texas, only to experience a historic collapse in Round 2 when they gave up a 12-point lead in the final 34 seconds of regulation to Texas A&M (an NCAA record for the largest comeback in that amount of time).

ICYMI: After forcing overtime, A&M avoided falling victim to Cinderella after two extra periods.


Top Marketer Reactions

All in all, the first week of March Madness featured three buzzer-beaters (already tied for the most ever in a single NCAA tournament) and 10 double-digit seeded teams winning in the first round — another tournament record. There are still brands who are continuing to ride the wave of emotions from one of the most memorable weekends in March Madness history by providing a silver lining to the weekend’s disappointments.


Judging from the successful strategies that certain marketers employed this time around, here are tips to carry into your game plan for the next round:

  1. ALWAYS pick a 12 to upset 5 (if not more than one) for your bracket. It happens every year, so don’t fight it anymore.
  2. Gifs, Vines, and Memes continue to reign supreme. In sports, we all know that defense wins championships, and on social, multimedia will always win you engagement. In all of the examples above, each brand included some image or video that represented the emotions of March Madness, allowing them to sympathize and better connect with Tweeters everywhere.
  3. By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail! In sports, and in marketing, go into events like these with a game plan. Have your posts, images, gifs and the like ready to strike during the best moments. Use listening and analytics tools like Zoomph to track the trends and engagement during big events so you know exactly when to shoot that game-winner that will bring your brand that extra buzz.
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