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Jell-O Gives Sports Marketing a Shot With School Brand Molds

Chobani Also Has a New University Sports Deal

By Published on .

Move over, beer and chips. When college football kicks off in a few weeks, Jell-O and Chobani will be looking to crash tailgate parties from the Bayou to the Pacific Northwest. The two brands have struck significant marketing deals with dozens of universities in a move to tap into the passions of fans of the LSU Tigers, Texas Longhorns, Oregon Ducks and other hot college sports markets in between.

The pacts -- which include radio ads, in-stadium signage and university-branded packaging like mascot-shaped Jell-O molds -- come as sports marketing sponsorship brokers try to lure more consumer-package-goods brands to campuses.

LSU Jell-O Mold
LSU Jell-O Mold

The most active categories sponsoring college sports in order are: financial services, restaurants, hotels/resorts, automotive and sports apparel and equipment, according to a ranking published last year by IEG, a sponsorship, research and consulting firm owned by WPP. Food ranks ninth, behind non-alcoholic beverages. Coca-Cola has the most college sports deals (see graphic). IEG projected total college athletic sponsorship spending of $763.8 million in 2013, up 6% rom 2012.

"We, from a national level, are far more aggressive, and we are also being more successful in illustrating the value in CPG [deals]," said Andrew Judelson, senior VP-business development at IMG, which formed IMG College in 2007 in a move to create a national platform aimed at striking multi-school deals with brands. The division holds intellectual and multimedia rights to nearly 80 universities and through a licensing affiliate separately has trademark licensing and consumer product rights for nearly 200 schools.

Jell-O, which is owned by Kraft Foods Group, slowly got into the game last year, striking deals with the universities of Arkansas, Florida, Michigan and Texas for special kits that include school-themed mold trays and Jell-O flavors matching the school colors. For instance, the Texas kit includes orange-flavored Jell-O, molds in the shape of the Longhorn mascot and packaging emblazoned with the university's familiar "Hook 'Em" rallying cry. The kits were sold on Amazon.com and at Walmart.

The molds -- which would seem to be the perfect delivery vehicle for Jell-O shots -- were a huge hit. "We were shocked by how quickly they moved," said Emilie Fitch, Jell-O's brand manager. Amazon sold out of its 20,000 allotment in less than a week, according to Kraft, which did not do any paid advertising on the site.

So this year Kraft has expanded the deal to cover more retailers and include 16 additional universities, including LSU, UCLA and Ohio State. Kraft did not release financial terms of the deals, which were brokered by IMG and Learfield Sports, which represents 99 collegiate properties, according to its website. The IMG pacts include Jell-O-branded content on in-stadium video boards and social-media plugs on official university athletic Twitter and Facebook pages, according to IMG.

Jell-O, which has been slumping, could use plenty of school spirit. Sales of all Jell-O brands fell by 8.1% in the 52 weeks ending July 13 to $670.1 million.

"There is clearly a huge passion around college football," Ms. Fitch said. Fans are looking to show their pride in all sorts of ways, and "this is just a really unique way you can do it at a tailgate or family party," she said.

And about those Jell-O shots? "We understand that this behavior might be popular among adults," Ms. Fitch said. But "the Jell-O brand does not advocate [that] behavior and we don't promote recipes that use alcohol," she added.

Yogurt wars
Chobani's deal was brokered by IMG and initially covers 17 universities -- including the universities of Georgia, Texas, Michigan and Ohio State. The deal will grow to 27 schools in its third year, according to Chobani, which did not release financial terms.

University of Michigan Chobani Branding
University of Michigan Chobani Branding

The pacts cover football and basketball games and include radio ads, print ads in game-day programs and branded content on Campus Insiders, a college sports digital network that carries live events, highlights and news. The network is run by IMG College and Silver Chalice, a digital sports media company.

The deals also include product sampling. Chobani's goal is to distribute at least 75,000 samples of its Greek yogurt at home games. The IMG partnership "builds off our current school programs while opening up significant new opportunities," Chobani Chief Marketing Officer Peter McGuinness said in a statement.

The deal is also more proof that the yogurt marketing wars have ventured further into the athletic arena. Chobani and Dannon both advertised in this year's Super Bowl, and Dannon last week announced that it will be the official yogurt sponsor of the National Football League, a first for the category.

Both brands touted the health benefits of yogurt when discussing the deals. In an email provided to Ad Age by Chobani's PR agency, Weber Shandwick, the yogurt brand stated that "college sports fans tend to be more educated, healthful and have greater earnings than professional sports fans."

Chobani's IMG deal does not include food-service distribution at campus cafeterias. But IMG touts its ability to get brands face-time with key campus leaders with an eye toward increasing distribution.

"Our relationships emanate and reside with the athletic departments with each one of these schools," Mr. Judelson said, noting, for instance, that there are 10 IMG employes "imbedded" at the University of Texas. And while the deals don't include foodservice, "we have a specific obligation to facilitate meetings with people who matter," he said. "And then it's up to said company to sell their product or service into that university."

Put another way: Brands will give it the old college try.

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