Yahoo’s Mercedes ‘March Madness’ Campaign Represents Test For TV Apps As Ad Vehicles

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March 9, 2012 – 12:01 pm

As college basketball fans finish filling out their NCAA March Madness brackets for "Selection Sunday" on March 11, Yahoo is unveiling a cross platform campaign for Mercedes Benz that also represents a test of its ability to use its connected TV app and social TV property IntoNow and as an a vehicle for blue chip sponsorships.

How well this campaign does for Yahoo will certainly influence its approach to content and advertising programs for the London Summer Olympics. And it will also demonstrate to advertisers what Yahoo can and can't do with the enormous scale it has on the web -- as well how well the company can scale its relatively new extensions on tablets, social and on connected TV.

"This is not a cross platform program in that we're connected with CBS and Turner," which are the respective broadcast and cable TV outlets for March Madness programming, said Patrick Albano, Yahoo's VP, Sales  for Social, Mobile & Product Innovation, in an interview. "This is about showcasing our original coverage of the event and connecting advertisers with our audience on all screens."

While ad spending is relatively non-existent on connected TV apps and social TV, the signs that audiences are at least experimenting with these features in large numbers are starting to emerge, at least when major events like awards shows or sports championship playoffs are on.

For now, it's an experiment or side-project for most media companies and advertisers. The idea is to figure out and help shape the audience experience before the (hoped for) mass numbers start appearing, rather than playing catch-up after the fact.

And Yahoo does have some numbers to brag about in terms of reach and usage. For example, IntoNow, the program check-in app that Yahoo acquired last April for $20 million, reached 2 million downloads in January. And while connected TV is not a major ad focus in its own right, Yahoo is working on building up its content and reach on that platform as well.

The Yahoo Connected TV platform runs on over 100 TV models from manufacturers including Samsung, Sony, Vizio, and Toshiba and the portal claims over 8 million households have access to it. At the moment,  the connected TV app has about 1 million monthly users, Yahoo says.

Given that the connected TV hasn't been as much of a focus as other parts of the Yahoo universe, the app certainly has potential for growth. But ultimately, it will depend on whether advertisers like Mercedes, and DiGiorno pizza, the other main sponsor of Yahoo's March Madness programming, will derive any brand lift from the app's users and whether Yahoo can use a high profile tournament like this one to drive more users.

By David Kaplan

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March 9, 2012 – 12:01 pm

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