AT&T's Lily Hams It Up With NCAA Stars—Past and Present—in March Madness Ad Blitz

The spots from BBDO LA are part of a large-scale marketing push for the major tournament sponsor  

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As one of the NCAA’s “Corporate Champions,” AT&T is typically granted carte blanche to have year-round activation presence at all its championship games.  

It comes as no surprise that the tech and telecom juggernaut expanded its omnipresence to include the airwaves during the hotly anticipated March Madness tournament.  

This year, the brand unleashed “Madness Loves Company,” a full 360 campaign that includes four spots from creative partner BBDO LA that will run throughout the games airing on both CBS and Warner Bros. Discovery. 

The first of the four spots, “Vicky’s Squad,” premiered during Selection Sunday (March 12). It features former NCAA players for Gonzaga and South Carolina, Chet Holmgren and A’ja Wilson.

In the spot, Holmgren and Wilson—who now play for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, respectively—are part of a squad watching the game on a driving range, completely unfazed by the balls hitting their cart, but are momentarily inconvenienced by an incoming “car warranty” spam call interrupting the action on the phone.

The scenario presents a perfect opportunity for AT&T’s longtime spokesperson, Lily, to inform the squad about the ActiveArmor feature that protects customers from unsolicited calls.  

In “Arms for Days,” former Pitt Panther and current Memphis Grizzlies player Steven Adams lends his extensive limbs (and shoulders) to Lily and a couple of grateful fans for an elevated game-viewing experience in a nod to the reach of the brand’s 5G network.  

The tongue-in-cheek “One and Done” might hit Kentucky Wildcats fans in the feels. In addition to taking place in the office of the team’s famed coach, John Calipari, it finds the ever-helpful Lily trying to encourage senior player Jacob Toppin to “Do the Kentucky thing” and take advantage of AT&T’s Galaxy Phone Trade-in policy to upgrade his phone and “go to the next level.”

Oklahoma City Thunder player Shai Gilgeous-Alexander—himself a Kentucky “one and doner”—makes a cameo appearance to chime in on the decision, alluding to the school’s reputation for churning out early NBA Draft picks, as the team’s mascot acknowledges the cheeky jab, and Toppin deftly declares his intent to switch (phones) when he’s ready. 

The final of the four (get it?), “One Shining Moment,” incorporates the tournament’s iconic theme song—the first time a brand has received permission to do so from its writer, David Barrett—to convey the power of the games’ ability to bring fans together for memorable moments through the brand’s 5G network.

Wilson, Holmgren and Adams return and are joined by Lily and NBA veteran (and former Duke Blue Devil) Christian Laettner, NBA veteran (and former Ohio State player) Greg Oden, NBA veteran (and former Gonzaga player) Adam Morrison, New York Liberty (and former Oregon Ducks) player, Sabrina Ionescu and Cassidy Cerny—the Indiana University cheerleader who went viral for plucking a stuck ball out of the backboard during a Hoosiers game—for a beachy keen spot the brand hopes will propel awareness and attention for the equally action-packed women’s bracket (even though Lily gets her thunder stolen by Oden). 

“It’s called March Madness, not March Mildness,” says Ash Tavassoli, BBDO’s executive creative director, in a shared statement. “While other big events are perfectly fine when you watch them solo, the women’s and men’s tournaments are built for madness. And madness is always better with friends.” 

A comprehensive game plan 

AT&T began rolling out the campaign prior to Selection Sunday with the release of its bracket manager. In addition to the four linear spots, the full campaign will also include OOH signage with illustrations by artist Andrew Rae in and around the stadiums where the men’s and women’s Final Four games will be held, several 15- and 6-second online videos, a Snap lens for social and a halftime integration featuring Lily alongside special co-anchors.  

Critical Mass and Hearts & Science are additional creative and media agency partners for the campaign. 

“The ‘Madness Loves Company’ campaign celebrates the connections with others that make March Madness fandom more fun,” Valerie Vargas, svp, advertising and retail marketing, AT&T, shared with Adweek. “Winning, losing, breaking records and busting brackets—they’re all that much better in good company. Our target audience data shows college basketball fans want to stay connected to their fandom all tournament long, and AT&T is an expert in the business of connection. Whether at home, on the go or attending the tournament events, fans can rely on AT&T to enjoy the Madness together.”   

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