Just weeks before Papa John's is due in federal court in a battle with industry leader Pizza Hut over competitive advertising, the company plans to air a new commercial on network TV that shows Papa John's founder-CEO John Schnatter telling his daughter she shouldn't sell lemonade made from concentrate, just as his chain doesn't sell tomato sauce made from concentrate.
A second spot, launching later, shows a sculptor creating statues out of tomato paste used by rivals.
The escalation in the No. 4 chain's skirmish with industry leader Pizza Hut comes as Domino's -- the No. 2 player in the $22 billion U.S. pizza business -- begins a search for a new agency to handle its $120 million account.
The Papa John's spots don't single out Pizza Hut, but the target will be clear to those who have watched this David-and-Goliath battle escalate the past three years.
'SAUCE IS CANNED FRESH'
"Recognize the medium?" the narrator asks in the sculpture spot. "It's the tomato paste some big pizza chains add water to to make their sauce." The spot then shows tomato sauce easily flowing from a Papa John's can. "Thankfully, Papa John's never uses paste. Our sauce is canned fresh," the narrator says.
The spot ends with Mr. Schnatter delivering the theme line, "Better ingredients. Better pizza." That slogan, Pizza Hut claims in court papers, is "false and deceptive."
The spots will have a limited network TV runs.
Elliott Firestone, creative director for Papa John's agency, Fricks/Firestone, Atlanta, said the client wants to show its point of difference. "It's not just to say we are better, but to show the differences in the products and the unique benefit we have in the category."
Syl Sosnowski, VP-marketing for Papa John's, said the ads are "always done with a kind of smile on your face."
BATTLE STARTED IN '97
The spots have been scrutinized by the company's attorneys, he said. The tomato paste used in the sculpture is real, he added.
Papa John's started battling Pizza Hut in 1997 with a TV spot about tomato paste. That was followed by ads featuring Pizza Hut's founder, now a Papa John's franchisee.
The spat -- already twice put before the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus -- erupted into a court case last summer, when Pizza Hut filed suit against its smaller rival in U.S. District Court in Dallas. Pizza Hut wants to stop Papa John's from using the theme line and seeks $12.5 million in damages plus legal fees. The trial is slated to begin Oct. 25 with a pretrial hearing set for Oct. 13.
Separately, a lawsuit Papa John's filed against Pizza Hut in May over a Pizza Hut ad is still pending. In that case, Pizza Hut used footage of Mr. Schnatter from a Papa John's spot, allegedly without the chain's permission.
Papa John's has beefed up ad spending as it has grown into a $1.2 billion company with more than 1,900 units concentrated primarily in the eastern half of the country.
Last year, Papa John's spent $28.5 million on measured media, primarily on spot TV, while Pizza Hut deployed most of its $132 million budget on network TV.
Domino's, which has escaped Papa John's sniping, last week said it is conducting a closed review for the national creative portion of its account. Incumbent Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, is participating along with less than 10 other contenders.
The review does not affect the $3.2 billion company's other agency relationships, a spokesman said. J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, handles regional marketing and all media buying, and is in the larger review. Don Coleman Associates, Southfield, Mich., handles African-American advertising and national project work. Marti Flores Prieto & Wachtel, San Juan, Puerto Rico,