Editor’s Note: This is one article is an extensive series of Q&A’s with leading marketers about their sports marketing initiatives.
Just hours before Alabama hoisted the College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship Trophy presented by Dr Pepper on Monday night, Dr Pepper secured a victory of its own around the game.
The Texas-based soft drink giant extended its massive deal with the College Football Playoff and ESPN through 2026. The brand had initially entered the partnership in 2014, becoming the first sponsor of the then-newly created College Football Playoff.
It was originally coined the “biggest sponsorship deal” in the brand’s history by Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s Chief Commercial Officer Jim Trebilcock. But what was even more notable—the marketing campaign the brand rolled out featured a fictional concessions worker named Larry Culpepper—and fans wanted to be like him. It even retailed Culpepper costumes, which sold out the past two years leading into Halloween.
Evan Vladem, who leads the Sports & Entertainment Division at Associated Group and is a sports sponsorship consultant at rEvolution, spoke with Trebilcock ahead of Monday’s game to discuss the strategy behind the Dr Pepper CFP sponsorship deal and massive extension.
VLADEM: Dr Pepper has been involved with college football since 1992. Since striking the CFP deal in 2014, what was the overarching goal of the partnership?
TREBILCOCK: Dr Pepper is synonymous with college football. Since signing on, we’ve strengthened that connection exponentially, tapping into the extraordinary passions of fans of both football and Dr Pepper. We are very proud to be extending our partnership with ESPN and the College Football Playoff for another six seasons, and we’re looking forward to giving our fans more of what they crave in the coming years.
EV: How was Larry Culpepper originally conceived?
JT: The way a college football national champion is crowned has been a source of debate for decades, with many fans demanding some kind of playoff. Our ad agency, Deutsch LA, conceived the idea of a character who could claim credit for the College Football Playoff idea, and that’s how “Larry Culpepper” was born.
EV: How did you introduce Larry and what was the response?
JT: We introduced the character in conjunction with the launch of our sponsorship of the CFP, and the consumer response was great, because the character gave us a fun and engaging way to tap into the passion and excitement fans have for college football.
EV: Dr Pepper has so many assets around the College Football Playoff. The brand is the title sponsor of the CFP National Championship Trophy, it has awarded almost $10,000,000 in tuition with your football toss, it has on-site activations, a social media photo contest for a years supply of Dr Pepper, and all of the media. How do you make the pieces of the puzzle fit?
JT: Dr Pepper wants to be a part of the various moments throughout the season from tailgates to home gates. We realize fans gather and celebrate in different ways and we want to interact with them in environments that are meaningful and relevant to them whether that be on site at the game or watching at home. Dr Pepper provides experiences that touch the fans across multiple platforms.
EV: TV viewership around the CFP semifinals and championship game were up this year. In a world of cord-cutting, how much do you concentrate on ratings? Do these numbers have any impact on your approach?
JT: Dr Pepper is always evolving the media strategy, constantly innovating and changing year over year to adapt to the ever-changing media landscape and how people are consuming media. That said, sports is a property that continues to be consumed live vs. time-shifted which makes it a premium position for us to maintain and surround. Ratings for the Conference Championships were the top rated games of the regular season and the Georgia versus Alabama game drove a 16.7 overnight rating +9% versus last year.
EV: How important is it for you to activate on-site so fans can actually experience Dr Pepper? In your opinion, what is the most immersive on-site activation you have available for consumers in Atlanta?
JT: The College Football platform is a great way for Dr Pepper to engage with our core consumers, which is why this is such a good fit for us. We had multiple opportunities to interact with fans at numerous activations spaces throughout the Championship Tailgate Campus. The most immersive activation was at College Football Fan Central where fans could sample product, play tailgate games and take photos to share with their friends.
EV: Why is sports such an ideal platform for Dr Pepper?
JT: Our football partnership provides us a large audience and numerous moments to engage with these consumers throughout the season both as the Dr Pepper brand and in partnership with our retail partners as we bring football tailgating experiences to life at retail.