Sony’s March Madness ‘boss button’ is an online ad that works

Peter Kafka
March Madness Boss Button.
Source: YouTube

Lots of smart people in the advertising business say that the future of advertising won't be advertising — it will be some kind of "branded content." Not an interruption, but a baked-in part of something people actually want to watch/read/consume.

Making this happen is quite difficult, for many reasons. A major one is that people often don't want to watch/read/consume the thing the advertiser wants to be baked into.

But here's a simple reminder of a version of something that does work: The "boss button" the NCAA puts on its March Madness site.

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In case you haven't seen it, because you're doing something other than streaming March Madness at work, the boss button is a tab on your browser. You're supposed to click on it when A Serious Person walks by your desk while you're streaming March Madness at work.

And when/if you do, the NCAA site gives you a semi-serious set of power points to pretend to look at (see screenshot here).

It is really an ad for Sony's PlayStation Vue streaming TV service (see screenshot here).

You're not really supposed to look at these things, because everyone knows you're not really fooling your boss. It's just a nudge-nudge. But lots of people do — millions each year — which means it's valuable real estate for the NCAA, along with Turner and CBS, who broadcast and stream the tournament via a joint venture.

The boss button debuted in 2006 and has used a series of fake Excel sheets, decks and in-boxes since then; one year, Dilbert creator Scott Adams cooked up a custom ruse (and got Dan Frommer, now the editor of this very site, to create a lengthy slide show about it. Ah, slide shows.).

The NCAA started selling sponsorships for the boss button in 2009, so we can't credit Sony for a novel idea here — just for taking advantage of a good one. Go ahead and feel free to copy this one, ad guys.

By Peter Kafka,

CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.