While you might still be finding bits of green paint in your hair, or various shamrock decor around your house from St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, it’s time to switch gears for one of the most hyped competitions in collegiate sports – NCAA March Madness.

The NCAA’s eagerly anticipated 3-week playoff event motivates people to pull out their old college jerseys, visit bars and restaurants in droves, and complete brackets for bragging rights. And advertisers are taking notice.

In 2016, this post-season college basketball tournament generated $1.24 billion in national TV advertising spending. All across the country, brands have been working hard to capitalize on the current excitement through extensive marketing campaigns and ads.

However, failing to do your due diligence can result in a cease and desist letter in your mailbox, and an abrupt end to your advertising campaign, or worse— a copyright lawsuit from the NCAA.

A good rule of thumb before creating any ad copy or detailed planning around nationwide events like this one is to do an initial search on the U.S Patent and Trademark Office website or visiting the NCAA’s official trademark guide. Unless you’re an officially approved sponsor of the tournament, steer clear of using any of these terms when trying to market or sell a service or product. The NCAA will sue you, and they’ll win.

However, just like the Olympics, Emmy’s, or Super Bowl, your brand doesn’t have to be an official sponsor to get in on some of the fun.

1. Custom Brackets

The official March Madness bracket keeps track of the 68 teams that have qualified for tournament play. Create a bracket that resonates and relates to your brand by pinning some products or services against each other as “match-ups.” Brackets create engagement and interest with your audience. This longer-form narrative keeps customers coming back.

Photo from Star Wars.

 

2. Tournament-related deals, contests, and offers

Giving away some freebies or steep discounts whenever a top seed loses, or your local team wins are great ways to increase engagement with customers and bring them in the door. Keep in mind, however, that unless you’re an official sponsor, you shouldn’t be using “NCAA” or “March Madness” in your marketing and promotional material.

 

3. Hashtags

Reach the folks who are already interested in what the world is saying about the tournament by including popular hashtags like #MarchMadness, #BracketBusted, or #NationalChampionship in your online posts. Get exposure, stay in the loop and become part of the conversation, all while avoiding a lawsuit.

Don’t let fear of accidental copyright or trademark infringement force you to sit on the sidelines this March Madness. Take some time to learn what you can and cannot say, and then get involved in the marketing madness.

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