Dr Pepper's College Football Marketing Is All About the Playoff

Quirky Larry Culpepper Character Is Back in Year Two of Playoff Sponsorship

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Advertising Age Player

College football won't begin for another couple of weeks, but Dr Pepper will soon start talking about the end of the season.

A campaign breaking Monday will put a heavy emphasis on the College Football Playoff, which has emerged as a rating blockbuster.

TV ads by Deutsch, Los Angeles, will feature Dr Pepper's Larry Culpepper character touting the playoff as the "best tradition in college football" while he seeks support to present the national championship trophy. The first spot (above) shows Mr. Culpepper, who is a concessions worker, getting ready for the season by running stadium stands lugging a carrier full of Dr Pepper.

Only in its second year, the playoff certainly lacks the longevity of other college football traditions. But for marketers, the event scores where it matters most -- with viewer eyeballs. Last season's championship game drew ESPN the largest audience in cable history. Dr Pepper is one of 15 corporate sponsors that signed deals last year backing the playoff.

Dr Pepper's six-year deal includes presenting sponsorship rights for the national championship trophy. While the deal gives Dr Pepper rights to use trophy and College Football Playoff trademarks, the brand cannot use individual team logos and imagery. That creates certain creative challenges when crafting a campaign all about football.

Dr Pepper's solution is Mr. Culpepper, who debuted last year as a quirky stadium concessions seller who delusionally thinks he invented the playoff. In ads he roams stadiums selling Dr Pepper. The approach "gives us the right to be there and play and interact with fans in a really authentic way," said Jaxie Alt, Dr Pepper's senior VP of marketing and sponsorships.

The stakes are pretty high: While Dr Pepper did not disclose what it is spending on the sponsorship, Sports Business Journal last year estimated the deal to be worth $30 million to $35 million a year.

This year, the brand is trying to leverage the sponsorship with more social media content and integrations with ESPN. Plans include having the Culpepper character occasionally take over Dr Pepper's Twitter feed, as well as a Culpepper microsite that will host additional content. The site, which was created by the Richards Group, will be made to look like Mr. Culpepper made it himself.

Ms. Alt declined to provide details on the ESPN integrations other than to say it will go "above and beyond our commercial time," potentially including time in the championship game broadcast.

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