A minor college football game existing far outside of the College Football Playoff and the sport’s top powers has become a viral sensation, thanks to a successful rebranding of the event, supported by what was described as the first-ever edible mascot in sports.
On the surface, Thursday’s Pop-Tarts Bowl in Orlando was nothing particularly special, with No. 25 Kansas State defeating No. 18 N.C. State, 28-19, before 31,111 fans in a game between a pair of three-loss teams. But the matchup transcended into something else entirely, with the breakfast pastry brand Pop-Tarts supporting its new title sponsorship of the game with an over-the-top postgame celebration.
In a ritual that was at once surreal and perhaps a bit morbid, a Pop-Tart mascot descended into an oversized toaster prop on the Camping World Stadium field. From that replica toaster emerged an actual, giant-sized (and now non-mascot) Pop-Tart that Wildcats players and coaches began to eat. The game trophy also featured actual Pop-Tarts that were similarly consumed.
“After the game, he will be devoured, he will die, and he will be his own last meal,” ESPN announcer Anish Shroff said of the Pop-Tarts mascot during the game broadcast.
In the aftermath, Apex Marketing Group calculated that Pop-Tarts generated nearly $12.1 million over the past week alone in brand value from TV, radio, social media, and digital news exposure from the game.
“You’re looking at north of a 25% bump in value [compared to last year’s game] because of this creative activation,” Eric Smallwood, Apex Marketing’s CEO, tells Front Office Sports. “The execution from Pop-Tarts really elevated the conversation.”
The Pop-Tarts Bowl existed in 2020-22 as the Cheez-It Bowl, where winning coaches were doused with a bucket of the snack food. But Kellanova, which owns both food brands, shifted its marketing focus for the game earlier this year, and then got to work on a post-game celebration that would break through the increasing noise of college football’s 43 bowl games. Cheez-It is now the title sponsor of the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl.
In recent years, the Duke’s Mayo Bowl has achieved a similar breakthrough into the cultural zeitgeist with its ritual of pouring mayonnaise on the winning coaches. But the Pop-Tarts Bowl took it to another level, in turn raising the question of what will be next in the arms race of college bowl game marketing.