Dr. Pepper Marketing Campaign Comes Full Circle

Okay, bear with me here. I love football, college and professional, always have and probably always will. I worked for an NFL team for 20 years. Part of the landscape of sports is advertising. It’s inescapable, it’s what keeps the lights on. I also love good storytelling, and an art form that has arisen in the last 20 years or so is the cinematic television series. No advertising campaign has captured both of these things as well as Dr. Pepper. Now, I am not a particular fan of the beverage myself. It’s an occasional treat. Sure, there might be a can or two of Diet Dr. Pepper in the fridge right now, but still, not my favorite, and I hardly touch pop anymore anyway.

Dr. Pepper was at the forefront of catchy advertising back in the 1970s with their “I’m a Pepper, you’re a Pepper” jingle-laden TV spots. Also in the 1970s and 1980s, Miller Lite capitalized on the popularity of beloved sports figures with their “Tastes Great, Less Filling” ad campaign featuring the likes of Hall of Fame Head Coach John Madden.

Fast-forward to the 2010s and college football. For decades, the NCAA, the media, and fans grappled with the lack of a playoff format to decide each season’s National Champion. The Bowl Championship Series replaced an arbitrary, somewhat biased, and subjective bowl and poll system, and the College Football Playoff superseded the BCS in 2014.

Enter Larry Culpepper.

As the NCAA was on the verge of adopting the College Football Playoff, Dr. Pepper introduced us to Larry Culpepper, an affable stadium soda salesman (played by James M. Connor), who claims to have invented the College Football Playoff. He even had a diagram drawn on a cocktail napkin as proof.

In 2018, Dr. Pepper “retired” Larry Culpepper and took us to a town called Fansville, a place enamored with all things college football, and of course, Dr. Pepper. There was only one problem, no Larry Culpepper. To say the new campaign was met with venom would be an understatement. I was one of those who did not like the new concept, and I thought they did Larry Culpepper dirty. For nearly five years, we had grown accustomed to Larry hawking Dr. Pepper and extolling the virtues of the National Championship-deciding formula he supposedly invented.


Even as the Fansville concept improved, I would still occasionally tweet at Dr. Pepper’s official account (as if I don’t have anything better to do) and ask where Larry Culpepper was and if they were going to bring him back. They’ve had plenty of opportunities and windows to do so.

As for Fansville, I didn’t care for it much at first. My initial reaction was something to the effect of, “What the hell is this?” But as the concept evolved and the storytelling took wing, I have grown to enjoy it quite a bit. There are core characters, comedy, drama, even a bit of science fiction and horror. It pokes fun at some serious topics and parodies life’s big moments, suburbia, rivalries, and sports tropes through the lens of a small college football town. Even Joe Theismann has lent his talents to the campaign. A mythos and lore have developed around Fansville. Yet, it’s been missing something. Larry Culpepper.

Each commercial is treated as a long-form commercial for a television show, and each commercial is a condensed version of said show. In one of the current season’s installments, there was a perfect opportunity to bring Larry back and it didn’t happen. As the commercials follow a TV show style and format, the latest is the “season finale” of Fansville, the characters struggled with their place in the universe, their own reality, and their fate in the dreaded “offseason.” Just before a moment of self-realization, the camera pulls back to reveal that Fansville exists, Krampus style, in a snowglobe. You see a hand, a Dr. Pepper visor, and a pair of sunglasses on a table next to the bauble. Larry Culpepper’s hand, sunglasses and visor.

It has taken quite a while for Dr. Pepper’s Fansville story arc to get to this point, four years to be exact, typical length of a college degree program perhaps. I don’t know if Dr. Peppper planned this all along or this is a nod to those of us who liked the Larry Culpepper character and didn’t care for his undeserved end. Just as Dos Equis ruined the Most Interesting Man in the World campaign, with a college football tie-in interestingly enough, they at least shot him into space. Larry Culpepper got no such send-off.

But I do know this, Fansville exists in Larry Culpepper’s snow globe, and however Dr. Pepper got there, this is pure marketing and advertising genius. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes now.

“Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too …”

On the Road

Comic book-style cover of Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

I just finished Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel On the Road. I stayed up until one o’clock in the morning last night reading. I read the Original Scroll version (purchased at City Lights in San Francisco) in 2015, but I had never taken in the commercially released version. The copy I got for Christmas has a wonderful comic book-style cover with illustrations featuring a few of the main “characters” in the story. It took just a few days and nights to consume the book. You don’t read Kerouac, you consume him, you absorb him. He would’ve turned 99 last Friday had he lived. Even if he hadn’t drank himself to death at the age of 47 he probably wouldn’t have made it to 99.

I’ve explored Denver as The Beats did in the 1940s the last few times I’ve visited that town. The Five Points neighborhood is long gone but the jazz clubs persist and I wish I would have taken in some performances during my trips. I’ve visited My Brother’s Bar and shopped for Beat literature at the Tattered Cover bookstore. I’ve stood where Kerouac stood and walked in Denver and in San Francisco at City Lights and throughout North Beach. The Beat walking tour that ends at The Beat Museum across the street from City Lights was an enlightening way to learn about Kerouac’s visits to The City which, if his novels are to be believed, were never much fun for him. I’ve been to Mexico City and devoured tacos and cerveza at a corner neighborhood stand.

When I was young, I had always identified with The Beats even though I had never read anything they’d ever written. I knew the names – Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Herbert Huncke, Edie Parker, Diane DiPrima, et al. I knew they were writers and poets that had been mythologized for the better part of a half a century. But I didn’t discover the words they had written until I was in my mid-40s. Many people at least read Kerouac in high school or college. Not me. I was reading Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Anne Rice. The only books written by early and mid-20th century writers or even older authors that I read were required by a high school teacher or three. The books I have written myself echo King, Koontz, and Rice, rather than Kerouac.

Since reading the Original Scroll version of On the Road, I’ve embarked on a bit of scholarship regarding The Beats. I’ve watched documentaries and interviews and the like trying to understand who these people were, what they were trying to do, where they were trying to go, what they contributed. I’ve grown quite fond of a YouTube clip of Kerouac’s appearance on The Steve Allen Show in 1959. I’ve read The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, The Haunted Life, The Subterraneans, the commercial and lost scroll versions of On the Road, and parts of The Unknown Kerouac by Jack Kerouac and Off the Road by Neal Cassady’s wife Carolyn Cassady. I posses other Kerouac volumes that sit on my to-be-read pile. I own other Beat literature as well.

I see some of myself and my early wanderlust in Jack Kerouac as I am sure many others have and do. I’ve examined friendships and found echoes of Jack’s relationship with Neal in one in particular. I’ve often thought of writing a book about my own Beat adventures in Kerouac’s narrative, stream-of-consciousness style. I stop short thinking nobody would want to read such drivel. I’ve been the third or fifth wheel, I’ve often shuffled after people who interest me, I’ve been the wallflower and the fly on the wall, and I have been the center of attention and the life of the party.

Many wonder what my fascination is with Kerouac and his writing. I wish I could answer that question. At his best, he is frantic and frenetic and takes you on the ride of your life either careening downhill with the car in neutral to save gas or climbing mountains without safety equipment. In The Haunted Life, Kerouac describes listening to a baseball game on the radio on a hot summer day like no one did before or has since. In On the Road, you feel like you are in the car with Kerouac and Cassady and the hapless ride-alongs from the ride-sharing service. In The Unknown Kerouac, his essays and journal entries leap off the page as he tries to figure out where he belongs. In The Dharma Bums you discover someone who is trying to learn the meaning of life and in Big Sur you realize he never will. After you read Kerouac, you’ll never listen to jazz the same way again (I often listen to jazz while I’m writing or reading). At his worst, he’s an overweight middle-aged drunk making a fool of himself on the William F. Buckley Firing Line program.

I’ve been to Big Sur and Bixby Bridge and thought of Ferlinghetti’s cabin and as I’ve driven up and down the California coast I’ve often wondered what Kerouac would think of the tourist-infested roads and towns and neighborhoods he once explored as a hitchhiker and bus rider. I don’t think he’d care for it very much. Reflecting on my own travels in my late teens I am thankful I had a car, I couldn’t imagine hitchhiking, although I have done my share of bus riding. There’s no way in hell you could retrace Kerouac’s tracks today, not the way he traveled. You’d end up dead or worse. Remember, I’ve read Stephen King, I know what really happens along those long lost lonely Nebraska roads.

On the Road will always be my favorite Jack Kerouac novel. I’ll read it again I suspect and I am sure it will be with new eyes and a new perspective. I never knew what it meant to be “beat,” and by the time I learned what it was I knew that I was not. Life happened, events transpired, and now I am “beat.”

“I had nothing to offer anybody, except my own confusion.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Now What?!?

I recently returned to exercise after a layoff for back surgery. I’ve put on five pounds in a week – from what I can tell it’s just water weight. There’s no way I have a 17,500 calorie deficit.

I’ve been walking three miles a day and I’ve been lifting weights. I’ve upped my protein intake. I’m drinking at least a liter of water a day.

I thought I had this whole thing figured out. I’ve worked too hard to get down to 180 pounds and now my body is rebelling against me.

I don’t know what to do.


Thanks Dave

I must admit I have not watched any late night TV talk shows on a regular basis in a long time. However, there was a time that I did watch Late Night with David Letterman semi-regularly.

One of the things I always liked about Dave was his willingness to have musical guests that I liked. Meaning, new wave, alternative, progressive, whatever you want to call it. Now maybe the Go Go’s don’t quite fit that category but I did always like it when they performed on Dave’s show.

I watched Dave’s farewell episode and as the show closed with the Foo Fighters and a performance of Everlong, I thought of those times I really enjoyed Letterman’s musical guests.

So, with this I say, thank you David Letterman.

Just a Quick Note

Found this article on Huffington Post that I thought I would share. I am definitely going through points 1 and 5 in this article. No. 1 is very difficult to deal with. I have written about my body image issues in this blog before and maybe it’s time to do so again.

But here are the five things nobody tells you when you lose weight…



Food for Thought

I had a thought this morning as I was going back through last night’s blog. I recently had the occasion to attend two meetings at Buffalo Wild Wings and I enjoyed lunch at both. Their lunch menu includes the calorie count for each meal. Eight boneless wings and fries add up to 800 or more calories.

I didn’t think much of it at the time other than “wow, that’s a lot. I’ll work it off.” Think about that for a minute – 800 calories and that doesn’t include a beverage. Now, I was working so I had 140 calorie mango lemonade. Your average 12-ounce American beer contains approximately 150 calories. Do some simple math and next thing you know you’ve consumed over 2,000 calories while sucking down chicken wings, fries and beer. Couple that with the fact that you probably won’t offset it with exercise and that trip to your favorite sports bar becomes very costly. Do it often enough…nice knowing you.

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in the cradle of chicken wings. Country Sweet, Sal’s Birdland in Rochester, Anchor Bar and Grill in Buffalo…I sought them out when I lived in Ohio…Damon’s, Rooster’s, BW3, Max and Erma’s.

I also am a sucker for a good cheeseburger. There are 590 calories in my beloved In and Out Burger Double-Doubles.

Approximately 3,500 calories equals a pound of body weight. Consider that.

I love eating out. It’s become one of my pleasures as an adult. I travel for work 10-12 times per year and eat several meals in unhealthy restaurants. I love a neighborhood bar and grill, an Irish pub, corner pizza joint, greasy spoon diner. I won’t be taking them as lightly from now on.

They’re Coming to Take Me Away

The squirrels know I’m injured. They line my walking path staring at me with those cold, black eyes…doll’s eyes.

I feel something at my feet, I trip, I’m falling. My head is spinning as I’m dragged into the burrow…

It’s dark, my head is pounding, I hear the sounds of gna
Oh dear God.

Call Carl Spackler.

Sorry, was channeling my inner Robert Shaw. Borrowed a line from Jaws. Damn squirrels were everywhere during my three-mile walk today.