By Barry Janoff
March 15, 2015: You know you've got an excellent road trip going when Charles Barkley and Spike Lee call "Shotgun!" and your driver is Samuel L. Jackson.
The three celebrities unite in a humorous March Madness marketing campaign for Capital One, "The Road to the Final Four," which sees the trio in a car heading for hoops games, with the ultimate destination being Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the Final Four and Championship Game will be played on April 4 and April 6, respectively.
The company is staying true to its strategy of increasing support of the NCAA every year, as related by Chris O’Neill, Capital One’s director of digital public relations campaigns, and is looking at its biggest March Madness effort to date.
The campaign, to support Capital One's Quicksliver credit card, breaks this week and runs through the Final Four and Championship Game via a multi-media platform that includes Internet, social media and the March Madness Bracket Challenge presented by Capital One.
During Final Four Weekend in Indianapolis, the Capital One is presenting sponsor of the Final Four Fanfest and presenting sponsor with co-NCAA Corporate Champions AT&T and Coca-Cola of the March Madness Music Festival.
Capital One also is presenting sponsor of the Tourney Town fan fest at the Women's Final Four in Tampa Bay (April 4-7).
The campaign retains Capital One's umbrella theme, "What's in your wallet?" and adds the "unlimited 1.5% cash back" tactic that its other heavy-hitter spokesman, actor Samuel L. Jackson, has shared in his Capital One commercials.
The trip actually began in 2010, when Capital One signed a long-term deal to become a Corporate Champion partner of the NCAA.
In 2013, Barkley became a spokesman for the company, tied to his position as a commentator and analyst during coverage of March Madness on CBS and Turner Broadcasting, when he appeared in a serious of commercials with actor Alec Baldwin.
Last year, Barkley and Baldwin were joined by Greg Anthony, who, like Barkley, moved from playing in the NBA to TV commentating.
For March Madness 2015, Capital One has united Barkley with Jackson and is also adding director/producer/actor Spike Lee (who also directed the spots) to the mix in a series of humorous commercials in which the trio hit the road to watch post-season hoops action.
"It's great working with Capital One during March Madness, and this year I got to do new commercials with Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson," Barkley said during a CBS-Turner media event in New York to promote the 2015 Tournament.
Barkley, who also will be seen in new spots for technology provider CDW, laughed when he added, "You'll see a lot of me during March Madness. There will be no avoiding my face."
Since 2004, the top five categories have spent $651.6 million during March Madness, which represents 57.4% of total spend among all companies, according to marketing and research firm Kantar Media, NY.
The No. 1 category is automotive ($216.9 million), followed by telecommunications ($128.5 million), restaurants ($107 million, 9.4%) and financial services ($105 million, 9.3%), led by Capital One, Quicken and TD Ameritrade.
The value of media exposure for NCAA corporate partners reached a record $112.8 million in 2014 from such elements as in-arena signage, on-air graphics and verbal mentions and fan and experiential activations. Capital One led here with $29 million in media exposure, followed by AT&T ($23 million), GM's Buick ($8.2 million), Coke ($7.4 million) and Enterprise ($6.1 million), according to Kantar Media.
Capital One's effort is anchored by five TV spots that follow Barkley, Lee and Jackson on "The Road to the Final Four," in which Barkley is the butt of the jokes in most of the story lines.
In "Shooting Star," Barkley looks out the car window and sees a shooting star and wants to play the "wish game." Lee and Jackson agree, but are unprepared for Barkley's replies. "I wish pandas were real. I wish pizzas were bigger. I wish all grown-ups felt like babies. I wish I didn't have to wear pants. I wish every truck was a taco truck. I wish I could live with you guys." After a pause, Lee says, "You'd have to wear some pants."
Second- and third-round games will be played in KFC Yum! Center in "Louisville," March 19-21, so en route the guys argue about how to pronounce the name of the Kentucky city. Jackson says "Loo-e-ville," Lee says "Low-ville," Barkley says "Luh-ville." They ultimately agree on "Da Ville."
In "Annapolis," Barkley is driving with Jackson at shotgun and Lee in the back. Apparently, Charles headed east from Louisville for nine hours instead of driving the two and a half hours north. "Wake up fellas, we are finally here," he says triumphantly. "In The Annapolis! Now we just have to find the stadium." A puzzled Lee replies, "Did you just say 'In The Annapolis?'" "In The Annapolis," Barkley repeats. "The Final Four." "Indianapolis!" says an equally puzzled and upset Jackson. "Indy-anapolis!" "Uh-oh," says Barkley. Jackson says, "You do know we are in The Maryland!? Indianapolis is in The Indiana!"
With the trip to Indianapolis well underway, Barkley suggests a game of "20 Questions" to pass the time. Charles is first and the others have to guess what he is. "Are you a food?" Lee asks Barkley. "Yes." Lee asks again, "Are you ham?" "Okay, let's go again," a despondent Barkley replies. "That was right!?" Jackson asks, then says to Barkley, "Are you a person?" "Yes," says Barkley. Jackson then asks, "Are you a ham farmer?" When Barkley again looks despondent, Jackson replies, "That was right, too!?" To which Lee observes, "Charles, that was too easy, my man!"
"Media exposure value for NCAA partners was a record $112.8 million in 2014 from signage, graphics and verbal mentions, and Capital One led with $29 million."
"Pitch" finds the trio sitting in a restaurant having breakfast, Barkley says, "I just wrote the best new movie script ever. Sam, you can be the star. Spike, you can direct." He hands them manuscripts titled "Underwater Ninja." Lee drops the script on the table and walks away. Jackson is a bit intrigued and begins to real aloud. "Open: Bottom of the ocean. Night. Dark and wet. A shark swims by. Or maybe it's a dolphin. I can never really tell. Plus, it's dark." Jackson starts to laugh and walks away, leaving Barkley alone at the table. "I don't need those guys," he says. "There's a gold statue in my future."
The guys finally arrive at their hotel in Indianapolis for the Final Four and are "Checking In." Jackson hands the desk clerk his Quicksilver card and says, "Reservation under Jackson." Barkley says, "You're using your real name?" When he checks in, he gives his name as "Barles Charkley." When Jackson looks at Lee for help, Lee responds, "I'm with Barles on this one." A moment later, the hotel manager comes over and greets them. "Ahh, welcome back, Mr. Charkley." Then looking at Lee, "Mr. Mars Blackmon," Lee's character in his movie She's Gotta Have It and Nike commercials with Michael Jordan. Jackson is amused and as they all leave the desk he says, "Mars, Barles, shall we." He then yells aloud, "Look everyone, it's Spike Lee and Charles Barkley!"
Capital One alliances with the NCAA also include the college football Capital One Orange Bowl, the Capital ONe Academic All-America Award, the Capital One Cup (presented annually to the college that accumulates the most points via final standings of teams in NCAA competition) and the Capital One Mascot Challenge.
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