How Capital One Capitalizes on March Madness’s “Three Weeks of Awesomeness”

As March Madness enters its final week, not only have the teams brought their A-games to the court over the last two weeks, but the marketers have, too. From humorous TV spots to live social action, brands have responded to the all the ups and down of the madness-inducing tournament in compelling ways.

One standout among advertisers this year: Capital One, which employed the comic trio of Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee for the third installment of its “Road to the Final Four” March Madness campaign.

Ahead of the Final Four, caught up with Clio Sports juror and chief brand officer at Capital One Marc Mentry to learn how the official NCAA sponsor navigates a tournament defined by upsets and the unexpected.

So much of sports advertising revolves around the athletes themselves. What is the challenge of advertising during March Madness when you can’t tap college players?

Capital One This is March Madness - Snack Hoodie

Like most of America, we at Capital One are huge fans of college athletics. We want to authentically engage the fans with entertaining advertising and social programs. From our years of doing the Capital One Mascot Challenge, to our [Clio Sports] award-winning Road to the Final Four ads with Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee, we have sought to have fun with college sports fans. We strive to do work that keeps people engaged at every time-out, halftime and in between to enhance the college fan experience.  Who can’t relate to an innovation like a “Snack Hoodie” or having your TV on The Clapper. We are fans telling stories and making advertising that we hope fans love.

Student athletes are the epitome of commitment and passion, and we love to celebrate them. Although we cannot use specific student athletes in our advertising, as an NCAA Corporate Champion, we have made a strong commitment to recognize and celebrate the achievements of these student athletes through the Capital One Cup, which recognizes the best Men’s and Women’s Division I athletic programs for their performance across all sports. In total, we have given more than $2.4 million in student athlete scholarships. This is our way of elevating the accomplishments of student athletes year-round, not just during March Madness. 

Why did Capital One decide to get involved with the NCAA and March Madness?

Student athletes and college sports fans are some of the most passionate folks you will ever see.  We saw a great opportunity to connect with that passion and excitement year-round through our partnership with NCAA. Being the official Bank and Credit Card of the NCAA (which includes the Women’s and Men’s Final Four) and College Football Playoffs, we are a part of some of the most talked about sporting events every year. That connection to passionate fans is very valuable and we love being there where Student athletes are giving 100 percent every minute of every game.

March Madness does indeed foster madness. How can advertisers capitalize on the Cinderella stories and unexpected moments of the tournament? 



Getting involved in how folks consume March Madness is at the heart of what we do. Since we know so many people fill out brackets, we sponsor the Capital One Bracket Challenge and the Capital One Tournament Run on We have created more than 20 unique GIFs pulled from our ads that fans can use in social media with friends to express their emotions from amazement to dismay when those unexpected and spectacular moments to happen over the course of March Madness. Also, we make sure that our social media command center is at the ready during all the games to engage whenever one of those “moments” happen.

How else does March Madness differ from campaigns during other sports championships? 

One of the greatest and most unique things about March Madness is that it is three weeks of awesomeness. So many events are a one-time thing, or just two teams battling for seven games for a championship.  This concentrated time gives us the ability to connect and have fun with all fans of March Madness. It is 68 teams, all with the chance to make it to the Final Four. I am a proud alum of George Mason University, considered by most to be the greatest Cinderella Story in March Madness history. The 2006 GMU story, [in which the team that had never won a NCAA tournament game made it to the Final Four,] proves that anything can happen and that is what makes this time so special for fans and marketers alike.

How do second screens and cross-device marketing play in March Madness campaigns?



The nature of March Madness and its unique schedule puts second screens at the heart of campaigns. With first round games tipping off at noon on Thursday and Friday, fans can’t always be near a TV, so they are watching on mobile and desktop devices. While we don’t endorse slacking during the workday, nor catching the March Madness “flu” just to watch games, we do know folks will watch and talk about the games on those second screens all day long. So it is an important part of the marketing mix for us during this time.

The 2017 Clio Sports Shortlist will be announced on April 27th and the awards ceremony will take place on May 16th in NYC. To purchase tickets, visit