Papa John's to cut founder out from all branding

By Published on .

Credit: Illustration by Ad Age, Composite image Getty

Better Ingredients. Better Pizza. Better Imagery?

Papa John's confirmed Friday that it plans to remove founder John Schnatter's likeness from its marketing, an announcement that comes on the heels of his being exposed for using the "n"-word in a conference call, and then resigning as chairman of the board.

The No. 4 U.S. pizza chain had already been showing less of Schnatter in its major campaigns. Still, an image of Schnatter, the "John" of "Papa John's," appears on a wide range of Papa John's materials, including its logo and pizza boxes.

Even the press release announcing Schnatter's resignation as chairman late Wednesday included a logo featuring Schnatter's likeness.

The AP first reported Papa John's plans. A Papa John's spokesman confirmed the story to Ad Age, without sharing further details.

Many of Papa John's recent ads have not featured Schnatter. The most heavily aired national TV commercial this year, according to iSpot, "It Starts with Our Ingredients," only has a glimpse of Schnatter's image—difficult to spot—on an apron someone wears. Nor does his voice say the "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza. Papa John's" tagline in that spot. His image and voiceover do appear at the end of two of the top five TV commercials that have aired nationally so far this year according to iSpot. Neither of those two spots including Schnatter appear to be airing.

It's quite a departure from past campaigns. Take, for example, one from the summer of 2016, when Schnatter's usual red Papa John's shirt was replaced with a "Ghostbusters" jumpsuit in a 30-second TV spot and on a movie-themed pizza box.

In its 2017 annual filing, Papa John's said, "We depend on the continued availability of his image and his services as spokesman in our advertising and promotion materials."

Papa John's has a license agreement with Schnatter "related to the use of certain intellectual property related to his name, likeness and image, our business and brand may be harmed if Mr. Schnatter's services were not available to the Company or the reputation of Mr. Schnatter were negatively impacted, including by social media or otherwise," it said in 2017 annual filing.

So far this year, Papa John's has spent an estimated $52.9 million advertising through 16 ads that collectively have run 33,330 times on national TV, according to iSpot.tv. In total, these ads generated 6.2 billion TV ad impressions.

Since the start of 2018, Papa John's ran six ads featuring John Schnatter. The ads featuring the founder ran 8,386 times (accounting for 25.16 percent of the brand's total TV airings during this period), for a total estimated media spend of $22.3 million, or 42 percent of its total TV ad spend. Those ads generated 1.9 billion TV ad impressions. The last ad that ran featuring Schnatter was a $12.99 of Better Drag Racing spot, which last ran on May 22 during "NHRA Drag Racing: Southern Nationals."

On Friday afternoon, CEO Steve Ritchie finally began addressing how Papa John's is addressing the controversy and echoed the company's earlier comments, saying in a statement that Schnatter would no longer be in any advertising or marketing materials associated with the brand.

No agency named

Schnatter used the racial slur in a May conference call with its then-agency Laundry Service. The shop resigned the account, and Papa John's has not yet publicly named a new ad agency. Its media agency, IPG's Initiative, said Thursday it was sticking with the company after discussing the matter with CEO Steve Ritchie. Olson Engage, meanwhile, resigned the PR account it had won in February, and said it "had significant recurring differences with their founder regarding the best way to address the controversies and restore and advance the brand's corporate reputation for the good of their workforce and franchisees."

Papa John's spent $125.4 million on measured media in 2017, down from $141.7 million in 2016, according to Kantar Media figures, which exclude digital. On social media, the company has been largely silent in the wake of the latest negative press. Its latest posts on its Facebook and Twitter pages came on July 10, a day before the Forbes story ran.

Most Popular