Wendy’s NCAA Sponsorship Sizzles with Supersized Visuals and a Growth Mentality

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Wendy’s installed massive signage across its footprints, with its Wendy persona front and center.

The NCAA’s March Madness set records this year with the women’s title game drawing more viewers than the men’s for the first time, and attendance across both the men’s and women’s championships at historic levels. Along for the ride was Wendy’s, the Official Hamburger of March Madness and the Official Breakfast of March Madness, which signed on in 2017 and, since then, has been growing its experiential programming around the sponsorship every year.

Wendy’s sponsorship this year came to life through scale and service in fan experiences at both NCAA Final Four championships: the men’s Tip-Off Tailgate presented by Nissan, April 6-8, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ; and at the women’s Party on the Plaza presented by Buick, April 5-7, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.

“Women’s basketball continues to gain visibility, and we’re proud to champion these athletes,” says Frank Vamos, vp-global communications and creative storytelling at The Wendy’s Company. “The women’s and men’s tournaments are only growing in excitement and engagement, and we’re matching that energy by going bigger each year for fans—bigger activations, longer activation hours, more Wendy’s favorites, and new ways to engage.”

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For the men’s championship, Wendy’s occupied one of the largest footprints among a dozen brands on-site with “The Square” activation, a 20-square-foot LED cube structure (a play on Sphere Las Vegas, but square like Wendy’s burger patties, of course) that displayed dynamic graphics. There was also a Wendy’s roadside sign, larger-than-life french fries’ box and massive signage featuring the Wendy’s logo with the Wendy persona front and center. The brand served up free Dave’s Single hamburgers, fries and Orange Dreamsicle Frosty treats. Fans could also score a bucket hat that they could customize with Wendy’s- and NCAA-branded patches.

Next door, Wendy’s sponsored the main live music stage where it weaved in messaging from a March Madness campaign around the hype song, “Sandstorm” by Darude, and an ad jingle promoting the $1 Dave’s Single and $2 Dave’s Double digital deal consumers could access on the Wendy’s App. On-site at Tip-Off Tailgate, every time the song played (i.e., “when the beef drops”) brand ambassadors helped “fuel the madness through crazy deals” shooting t-shirt cannons and offering up other exclusive giveaways to celebrate.

For the women’s championship in Cleveland, the brand posted up outside the stadium in the mornings to serve free breakfast sandwiches, offer up more customizable bucket hats and serve as a photo op for fans with its supersized signage, including “Wake Up With” messaging, the Wendy persona and the signature red color everywhere fans turned. The activation mapped back to the brand’s objective to change mindsets and remind consumers that Wendy’s has a breakfast menu.

The scale of the signage and visuals, as well as the presence of the Wendy persona, who is the voice of Wendy’s on social media, is something the team strategized for when it came to social media amplification. The brand saw in the early days of its NCAA sponsorship with gifting and influencers how a sponsorship can carry over successfully into social content, and took lessons from that, as well as other successful sponsorship experiences this year, and applied them at the Final Four.

“By showing up on big stages with eye-catching visibility, including our NASCAR sponsorships and recent activation with DJ Khaled during Daytona 500, we are sharing our passion for sports with our fans,” Vamos says. “We knew we could bring this similar approach to basketball as well, leveraging a visual element like ‘The Square’ to entertain and engage fans.” Agencies: The Marketing Arm (experiential); VML (social content); Spark (media buying); Ketchum (p.r.).

Rachel Boucher
Posted by Rachel Boucher

Rachel joined Event Marketer in 2012 and today serves as the brand's head of content. Her travels covering the experiential marketing indust ry have ranged from CES in Las Vegas to Spring Break in Panama City Beach, Florida (hey, it's never too late)—and everywhere in between.
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