AT&T taps influencers to bring March Madness to your smartphone

Even if you’re nowhere near Houston for the NCAA championship showdown between the UNC Tar Heels and the Villanova Wildcats tonight, AT&T is ensuring that it is “mobilizing your world.”

The telecom giant — an official corporate partner of the NCAA — is teaming up with a handful of Snapchat and Vine influencers to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at all the frenetic activity around the Final Four, both on and off the court. It is working with MKTG agency Team Epic and influencer agency Delmondo for this push, which is a part of its bigger campaign #GameOn promoting AT&T-owned DIRECTV’s streaming service.

Snapchat artists Evan Garber and Mike Metzler as well as Hawaiian basketball freestyler Kalani Ahmad among others, have been churning out content from Houston in the the run-up to the final tonight. Some of these also feature appearances by basketball stars Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen as well as musicians including Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco. So far, the campaign has driven more than a million views on Snapchat alone.

In one clip for instance, Ahmad spins two balls as Scottie Pippen watches, before passing one of the balls to him.

In another clip from the weekend, influencer Frank Danna is shown dancing around Houston’s Discovery Green, waiting for Fall Out Boy to perform.

In a third, stop-motion Viner Jack Bethmann delivers a panorama of Houston’s NRG stadium.

AT&T is circulating this content across its social properties, including Twitter and Facebook. But it is also cutting it together as a reel to be broadcast as branded content on the stadium’s Jumbotron — becoming the first national brand to integrate Snapchat content into a major sporting event in this way. A similar reel was already broadcast during the Final Four games on Saturday, between UNC and Syracuse and Villanova and Oklahoma.

Early last year, AT&T created a Snapchat scripted series called “SnapperHero,” starring a bunch of YouTube, Vine, Instagram and Snapchat influencers, such as Freddie Wong and Harley Morenstein and Anna Akana.

AT&T is also trying to cultivate its own in-house stable of social media stars. As Digiday reported earlier, it is teaming up with YouTube network Fullscreen to launch AT&T Hello Lab, a new program aimed at helping social video stars create all sorts of content regularly — instead of specific AT&T campaigns or another.

“Today’s influencer-brand relationships are too transactional in nature,” said Valerie Vargas, vp of advertising and marketing communications at AT&T. “We want to flip that on its head by making a long-term commitment to the community.”

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