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March Madness email campaign tips, ideas & subject lines

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Ever wondered why March Madness-themed emails flood your inbox every year?

This three-week US phenomenon features 68 college teams battling it out from noon till night. But it’s more than just basketball; it’s a social and cultural fest that marketers shouldn’t miss out on.

Many current NBA stars had their moments of glory as college basketball players during that tournament. That includes Stephen Curry, who led Davidson to an Elite Eight appearance, and Anthony Davis, who won the title with Kentucky.

Steph Curry with the Davidson Wildcats in 2009 (Source)

Steph Curry with the Davidson Wildcats in 2009 (Source)

Big names like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar competed in the NCAA and won tournaments before becoming NBA legends.

Michael Jordan during his college years – 1983 issue of The Sporting News magazine (Source)

The event is filled with excitement, fun, humor, and historical moments, giving fans insights into who could be the next top NBA draft pick.

It’s safe to say that Americans look forward to this event, and the numbers prove it. In 2023, 10 million viewers tuned in to the March Madness basketball tournament (Source).

How significant is this event for Marketers?

With millions of people watching this event, marketers invest a good amount of money in promotions and ads during the tournament. In 2019 alone, 910 million dollars were spent on national TV advertising.

Bar Chat showing National TV advertising spending during the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship (March Madness) from 2015 to 2019

Bar Chat showing National TV advertising spending during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship (March Madness) from 2015 to 2019

Also, according to data from Interpret, March Madness fans have a higher tolerance for ads than the general public, not to mention the huge amount of ads and user-generated content posted on social media during the event.

So, without further delay, here are the best tips and ideas for a successful March Madness email campaign.

Use trademarks and copyrighted terms cautiously

When creating an email campaign around March Madness, marketers should be cautious about using protected terms like:

  1. March Madness
  2. The Big Dance
  3. NCAA
  4. Final Four
  5. Elite Eight
  6. Sweet Sixteen

The NCAA trademarks these terms, and using them for promotions without permission could lead to legal issues. You don’t want to make it look like you’re officially linked or use these terms to boost your brand without the NCAA’s permission. The key? Get creative in talking about the tourney without stepping on trademark toes. Learn more about these trademarks on the NCAA’s official website.

Make the emails relevant to your target audience

March Madness ads and promos are usually about connecting with basketball and sports fans in the US, especially with TV ads during the games. But email marketing is a bit different.

You must remember that players’ and fans’ families and friends get roped into the excitement, too, even if they’re not big on sports. Since games run from noon to late, it’s hard for them to miss it, making it important to consider a broader audience in your email campaigns.

If you’re reaching out to folks who aren’t really into sports or basketball, adjusting your emails to catch their interest is key. Take IK Multimedia, for example: in one of their March Madness campaign promos, they smartly played on the “Madness” vibe to connect with the tourney buzz, but really, they were hyping up a massive sale on their music software for their main crowd – musicians, not basketball fans.

Ik Multimedia March Madness Email Marketing campaign

On the other hand, if your email campaign targets those who know the game well, then make sure to add tournament-specific words, puns, and brackets. The following section will discuss these jokes and cultural references.

Use cultural references and pop culture terms in your emails

You can get creative using these terms and references within your emails and subject lines. The tournament fans would surely get these and appreciate the creativity. Here are some of them:

1. Cinderella stories

Cinderella stories in March Madness are all about the underdog teams that shock everyone by beating the big names and going far in the tournament. It’s like the unexpected heroes of college basketball, showing us that rank doesn’t matter on the court—it’s all about the game. Fans love rooting for these teams because it makes everything unpredictable and exciting.

2. Bracket busters

Bracket busting occurs when a team nobody expects to win in March Madness pulls off a shocker, messing up many people’s brackets and predictions. It makes the tournament unpredictable and fun, with lower-ranked teams knocking out the big shots and causing significant upsets.

The obsession with predictions and elimination brackets during the college basketball tournament is intense. Miro capitalized on this enthusiasm in their March email campaign by incorporating a section with a call-to-action (CTA) that directs subscribers to a template. This template enables users to set up their elimination brackets for March Madness.

3. Sister Jean

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt is the chaplain for Loyola University Chicago’s men’s basketball team. She became well-known for her prayers and support during the team’s 2018 March Madness run to the Final Four. Her prayers and encouragement were highlighted as part of the team’s success story, making her a beloved figure within the team and among basketball fans nationwide.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt (Source)

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt (Source)

Making a creative reference to Sister Jean in your emails or marketing content will win your target audience’s hearts, especially if they’re fans of the NCAA tournament.

4. March Madness pools

March Madness pools are informal betting competitions where participants fill out brackets predicting the outcomes of the NCAA basketball tournament games. Players earn points for each correct prediction, and the person with the most points at the end of the tournament typically wins a prize, which the pool’s organizer determines. These pools are popular for fans to engage with March Madness, adding excitement to watching the games.

Quizlet, for example, created a competition called “Match Madness,” in which anyone who plays a Matching game during the tournament enters a draw to win $100.

5. Buzzer Beaters

A buzzer-beater is a last-second shot that wins the game or takes it to overtime. These shots are usually highlighted as the most exciting and dramatic moments, especially at the end of the game.

You can get creative with this and use it to develop a sense of emergency for deals or promotions that you’re running. Dataquest, for example, indirectly used this and included a countdown in their “March Madness” emails.

Dataquest March Madness Email marketing campaign

6. Survive and advance

This phrase is commonly used to describe the mentality needed to succeed in the single-elimination tournament format of March Madness.

7. One Shining Moment

One Shining Moment is a popular song played at the end of the NCAA tournament, capturing the best highlights of the tournament.

8. Selection Sunday

This is the day when the NCAA Selection Committee announces the teams and matchups for the March Madness tournament.

9. Razzle Dazzle

Basketball commentators often use this term to refer to flashy and entertaining plays. Razzle dazzle plays include behind-the-back passes, crossovers, alley-oop dunks, and other flashy moves demonstrating athleticism and creativity.

10. Accountant

An accountant in basketball slang, especially during March Madness, is often used to describe a player not known for their athleticism or flashy skills on the basketball court. These players have average physiques and skills but manage to do their job and deliver a steady and reliable performance.

11. Drip

“Drip” refers to a player’s choice of clothing, accessories, and overall demeanor. Therefore, when someone mentions “no drip” or “Zero Drip” in NCAA March Madness or basketball slang, they are likely referring to a player who lacks flashy or stylish qualities.

Incorporate the National Women’s History Month

Incorporating Women’s History Month into March Madness campaigns helps amplify women’s voices and achievements in basketball and society while promoting inclusivity, diversity, and equality within the sports community.

Keep in mind that March Madness also includes the Women’s NCAA tournament. You can mention and honor trailblazing women who have contributed significantly to the sport. That includes legendary players like Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, who have shattered records and expectations, to influential figures like Dawn Staley and Pat Summitt, whose coaching legacies are unparalleled.

But let’s not forget the icons in the stands and behind the scenes, such as the beloved Sister Jean, whose spirit and support have become a national treasure.

Incorporate Spring Cleaning

The spring cleaning event occurs during the March Madness season in the US. Incorporating it with March Madness in email marketing can be a fun and engaging way to connect with your audience. Especially those that aren’t primarily college basketball fans.

Incorporate St. Patrick’s Day

Blending St. Patrick’s Day with March Madness in your email marketing campaigns introduces a festive twist that can captivate your audience with the luck of the Irish. As the excitement of college basketball intersects with this cultural holiday, you have the perfect opportunity to dress your emails in green, sprinkle in some Irish charm, and perhaps offer a pot of gold in exclusive deals or discounts.

DesignCrowd’s “Mad March Sale” email campaign is an excellent example of merging St. Patrick’s Day with March Madness.

Celebrate the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day by highlighting themes of luck, friendship, and the communal joy of gathering to watch the games or participate in brackets.

Add some March Madness jokes.

Injecting humor into your March Madness email campaigns can significantly boost engagement and relatability. After all, who hasn’t experienced the rollercoaster of emotions with a busted bracket or the friendly rivalries spurred by betting pools? Light-hearted jokes and memes that play on these shared experiences can foster a sense of community among your audience.

March Madness email subject lines you can steal

Are you seeking inspiration to write subject lines for your March Madness email campaign? Here are some subject lines that are inspired by the cultural references and terms used during March Madness:

  1. “Last Chance Buzzer Beater 🚨: Grab Your Deal Before Time’s Up!”
  2. “Shot Clock’s Ticking ⏱️: Don’t Miss Out on This Deal!”
  3. “Beat the Shot Clock ⏲️: Secure Your Deal Before the Buzzer Sounds!”
  4. “Time’s Up! Grab This Buzzer Beater Bargain Before It’s Too Late! ⏰”
  5. “Beat the Buzzer 🚨: Secure Your Deal in the Nick of Time!”
  6. “Buzzer Beater Madness 🏀🚨: Don’t Miss Your Shot at This Deal!”
  7. “[Name], Brace Yourself! These Deals Are Total Bracket Busters! 💥”
  8. “Hey [Name], Check Out These Product Picks That Are Total Bracket Busters! 🔥”
  9. “[Name], Get Ready to Be Amazed! These Offers Are Total Bracket Busters! “
  10. “[Name], Don’t Miss Out! These Deals Are Real Bracket Busters! 💰🏆”
  11. “[Name], Your Shining Moment Awaits! 🌟 Don’t Miss Our Exclusive Deals!”
  12. “🏀 [Name], It’s Game Time! Score Your Special Discount Today!”
  13. “Bring on the Razzle Dazzle! 💫 Check Out Our Flashiest March discounts”
  14. “🔥 Style MVP: March’s Hottest Deals on Trendy Picks!”
  15. “🔥🏀 Get Your Drip Game On with March’s Hottest Deals!”
  16. “Get in the Game! Exclusive Discounts with Every Purchase! 🏀🎉”
  17. “🎯 Score Big Savings on Every Right Guess – Join Our Pool Today 🎯🏆”
  18. “🏀 Madness Awaits: Win Big with Every Prediction!”
  19. “😇 Heavenly Deals Just for You – Dive Into the Savings!”
  20. “🌈 [Name], Discover March’s Most Miraculous Deals Inside!”

Nael Chhaytli
Nael Chhaytli
Nael Chhaytli is a Digital Marketing Expert and a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at GetResponse. With a diverse background in various marketing disciplines, he has leveraged his expertise to drive success for businesses in the service, SaaS, and e-commerce sectors.