March Madness Future of TV Upfronts

How March Madness and lost fans helped build the launchpad for #TruTVAwarenessMonth


By Bennett Bennett, Staff writer

April 9, 2018 | 7 min read

For college basketball’s March Madness tournament season, certain things happen like clockwork. Upsets (including the first-ever 16-seed beating a top seed) and storylines (how could one not like Sister Jean and the Loyola-Chicago story?) pervade the manic weeks in one of the most exciting seasons in sports.

TruTV Awareness Month

TruTV Awareness Month was born out of the lack of fans who were able to properly find the comedy network / TruTV

Another annual piece that is now expected is the curiosity of one of the broadcast partners of the tournament, truTV. Part of the Turner stable of networks (a large number of games were broadcast on Turner properties, including the national championship game, won by Villanova, on TBS), truTV trolling is a welcome addition to the action.

The network, which has a deep focus on comedy (ergo the moniker “Funny because it’s tru”) started broadcasting early-round tournament games in 2011 and became a social media sensation after fans weren’t 100% clear on what the network actually was in the first place.

“There was a flood of people — thousands and thousands of them — saying things about truTV,” said Dan Manu, vice president of marketing content at truTV. “Some of them were very legitimate, like, ‘I need help finding truTV. I can’t actually find it.’”

From there, the network became a very good-natured punchline for the tournament and, realizing the grand opportunity to use the confusion as a marketing tool, the network began to leverage the chatter with its first social campaign in 2015: #HaveUFoundtruTV.

According to Manu, the first year was about providing information on where to find the channel itself. In the second year, Manu said that the network was “more confident” and rolled out #TruTVisAThing, a more ironic approach which engaged more with the audience.

“This was an audience of people who were aware of our campaign, and were watching us troll back to people, basically watching our campaign as spectators,” said Manu. “It turned from a boxing match into a sport where there's an audience in the stands virtually watching us talk to these folks.”

Last year, the network dove into the tournament with #Funnycauseitstru and a bit more swagger. The net result was very positive with 315 million social impressions and a Grand Clio Award.

“We were in full flower [with] confidence, our tone was no longer self-deprecating at all,” noted Manu. “We had such an incredible slate of programming. It was probably the biggest year in truTV history last year in terms of the kind of shows and critical acclaim we had, [including] our first Emmy nomination.”

With progressive and enterprising experimentation, this year’s tournament became a more considered, longer campaign for the network, gleaning inspiration from the public service announcement (PSA) world. The theme, truTV Awareness Month, made a concerted effort to keep viewers engaged and educated throughout the month with a much broader digital approach, leveraging the comedy slate that includes Impractical Jokers, Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters, The Carbonaro Effect and At Home with Amy Sedaris.

“The big tweak we made was taking this out of only a social realm and making this a month-long, multi-platform campaign,” said Manu. “This year, it's about making sure people know of our comedic programming, making sure they know about the exact, specific shows.” Armed with more than 450 video elements — a mix of clip-based spots and PSA-style video featuring 21 of the network’s talent — truTV had a wide playing field and built opportunities on the fly, much like their interaction in previous years. “Somebody made a little joke about us, and we joked back at her,” said Manu. “We included a clip from Amy Sedaris and she immediately responded, ‘Oh, I didn't know you were airing Amy Sedaris. I'm going to have to watch that now.’ Now, it's really full-bore converting folks.”

Additionally, Manu found that the original trolling has converted into a playful back and forth with brand advocates coming out of the woodwork.

“We’re seeing an enormous influx of fans now doing our work for us, jumping into these threads and telling people, sometimes before we could even get around to talking to them, ‘Hey, what do you mean you don't know truTV? They're the home of this show and this show and this show,’” noted Manu.

Social agency Movement Strategy helped execute the campaign and truTV layered in the digital work with on-air, video-on-demand (VOD) and app-specific elements to further bolster the effort.

While the final engagement numbers for this year are still being tallied, initial reports indicate that the network had its strongest key demographic performance in the eight years it has broadcast the tournament, which could be a boon in the upcoming TV upfronts season and something that the network is leveraging.

“We’re doing a version of [the campaign] targeted to the sales community,” said Manu. “[It’s] in that same comedic vein but we want to talk to salespeople the same way we’re talking to consumers about the kind of brand we are.”

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