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Best March Madness ads so far, from Danny Devito & Jersey Mike’s to DiGiorno’s ‘Cry pie’

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By Audrey Kemp | LA reporter

March 13, 2023 | 7 min read

Here are six campaigns from brands that aim to slam dunk and cash-in during NCAA March Madness 2023.

sad guy with pizza

DiGiorno’s ‘Cry pie’ is baked for those who didn't score / Credit: DiGiorno

Tomorrow kicks off the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) 2023 March Madness. Not only will 68 different teams compete throughout the tournament, but so, too, will numerous brands for the attention of college football fans.

From Danny Devito training Jersey Mike’s workers to Willie Nelson going ‘On the road again’ with Capital One, below are some of the best March Madness plays from brands thus far.

6. Aflac rebounds its ‘gap goat’ from last year

Supplemental health insurance brand Aflac is extending its ‘Aflac duck versus gap goat’ story during the March Madness tournaments with two 30-second spots: ‘Poolside’ and ‘Birdwatching.’

In ‘Poolside,‘ a goat disrupts the Aflac duck‘s poolside tanning session with an unexpected medical bill. The duck blinds him with a reflective tanning blanket. Developed by Dagger Agency, the spots build on the brand’s 2022 college football marketing campaign, which introduced the ‘gap goat.’ According to the brand, the goat represents the gap left when health insurance doesn’t cover every medical expense.

5. Craig Robinson enjoys 90s Pizza Hut relics

90s kids might get flashbacks while watching Pizza Hut’s nostalgic March Madness campaign. The GSD&M-produced ad brings back The Office’s Craig Robinson, who has worked with Pizza Hut since 2021, enjoys two ‘90s products: Pizza Hut’s mini basketballs and The Big New Yorker, a pizza that debuted in 1999.

The spot will air during NCAA basketball games throughout the entire March Madness tournament as well as in live streams, social and digital properties for CBS and Turner Network.

4. Degree cheers for ‘Walk on’ athletes with $25,000 NIL deals

basketball players

Antiperspirant brand Degree is awarding five walk-on student-athletes during the March Madness tournaments with name, age and likeness deals. According to the brand, each walk-on, defined as college athletes who don’t have athletic scholarships, will receive $25,000 to help them cover living expenses for one year of college.

To spread awareness, Degree is tapping a number of influencers, including Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Instagram famous basketball player Trey Uno and TikTok-famous wrestler Marlee Smith.

Nominations are open at www.degreedeodorant.com/us/march-madness/ through March 19. Edelman handled the campaign’s creative, while United Entertainment group handled talent.

3. DiGiorno bakes a ‘Cry pie’ for the losing team

man crying next to a pizza

It’s not delivery – it’s disappointment. Inspired by the viral, crying piccolo-playing girl from last year’s March Madness tournament, frozen pizza brand Digiorno has created its first-ever ‘Cry pie.’ Available to win at www.DigiornoCryPie.com, the triple-onion pizza with alfredo sauce is meant to be a scrumptious scapegoat that fans of the losing team can blame their tears on.

The campaign was developed by Team N, a bespoke model of Weber Shandwick and Golin.

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2. Danny Devito trains Jersey Mike’s workers in ‘Eye of the slicer’

Sub sandwich chain Jersey Mike’s brings back Danny Devito for its March Madness ad after recently hiring the star for its Big Game campaign. In ‘Eye of the Slicer,’ the It’s Always Sunny star whips Jersey Mike’s workers into optimal sub-making shape. The spot reprises Rocky III, which debuted Survivor’s 1982 track, Eye of the Tiger, and even features a training montage, except the track has been remixed and rewritten to ‘Eye of the slicer.’

Developed by Chicago-based agency Highdive, the 60-second spot will air on CBS during March Madness through March 16 and 17.

1. Capital One takes Willie Nelson and others ‘On the road again’

Willie Nelson serenades numerous A-list stars with his road trip anthem, ‘On the road again,’ in Capital One’s NCAA March Madness campaign.

In five spots, Nelson, Magic Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson and other stars embark on a number of Americana traditions, from chatting up truckers on a CB radio to stocking up on road trip essentials at a roadside supermarket. Created by GSD&M, the star-studded work marks the credit card company’s 13th year as the tournament’s official sponsor.

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