March Madness Marketers Should Study the NBA for a Winning Instagram Strategy

Pro basketball offers clues to social video mastery

Headshot of Christopher Heine

If brands that are investing in March Madness—we're looking at you, Capital One, Coke and AT&T—want to effectively extend their campaigns to social video, they should watch basketball's big boys for guidance and inspiration. The National Basketball Association has consistently held the No. 1 slot for sports leagues on our Adweek/Shareablee weekly brand charts for Instagram clips, while often recapping a night's prior events, not with true video but with a rapid-fire series of photo stills.

"The NBA has mastered the frozen moment—the photo cliffhanger," said Sean Miller, svp of strategy at digital agency Rokkan. "The lesson for marketers is that if you don't have decent video to begin with, stick with photos. But a great video is only as good as its best frame. The one that begs to be played. This step is overlooked by a lot of brands using Instagram who assume that the little play button in the corner is going to be enough to for people to stop and watch for 15 seconds."

Matt Conlin, president of Fluent, said Americans' typically short attention spans make the NBA's Instagram account a "perfect example of what to do."

"The league understands people are looking for quick, concise videos showcasing elite [players], not boring shorts that don't entertain," he explained. "If March Madness marketers can even somewhat replicate what has been done via the NBA social channels, it should prove successful and excite the college basketball fan base."

Mary Beth Keelty, chief marketing officer at PM Digital, pointed to the NBA's practice of sharing behind-the-scenes moments—a best practice for all social media marketing.

"Fans are intrigued by pre-game rituals and after-win celebrations, and Instagram is a platform that allows the NBA to offer these kinds of connections," she said. "With March Madness approaching, marketers have the opportunity to follow the NBA's lead and share content that allows fans access to their favorite players and schools off the court. At its core, Instagram is a storytelling platform, and March Madness marketers can leverage the unexpected stories that come to life throughout the course of the tournament through entertaining, and highly personal, pictures and videos."

Indeed, as the calendar flips on Sunday and NCAA conference tournaments hit the airwaves in the following days, basketball fans—even the most casual of them—will follow the human narratives that emerge.

Can the currently undefeated Kentucky Wildcats, with its young but supremely talented team, handle the tough expectation that they'll win it all? Can a smaller school make it to the Final Four like Wichita State did in 2013 or Virginia Commonwealth in '11? Brands will keep a close eye on such storylines, trying to enter the sometimes riveting conversation via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other platforms with appropriate messaging.

"From Cinderella stories to emerging basketball dynasties, March Madness captures the hearts of basketball fans everywhere," said Stacy DeBroff, CEO of Influence Central. "The visual imagery and video capabilities of Instagram prove the ideal vehicle for fans to relive everything from dramatic wins to behind-the-scenes happenings along the path toward victory."

If you need to brush up on how the NBA and other top brands kill it with Instagram video before the college action picks up, take a gander at their work in the multimedia infographic below. Our weekly feature always entails eight particular categories (auto, beauty, consumer electronics, retail, fashion, celebrities, sports leagues and TV shows). Two wildcard niches are always added in, and we've chosen luxury fashion and sporting goods/apparel for this week's edition.

Check out their winning clips.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.