Papa John's ad puts real employees to work repairing its brand

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Papa John's fell into turmoil because its founder's dominant voice generated repeated controversies, most recently when he used a racial slur on a conference call, which ultimately led to his exit.

Now, the No. 4 U.S. pizza chain hopes that airing other voices—those of its employees—will help it fix the damage.

A 60-second spot posted online on Tuesday begins the first major Papa John's campaign since founder John Schnatter used the n-word in what was supposed to be a media training exercise last May. The ad was created by Endeavor Global Marketing, which Papa John's hired earlier this year after Laundry Service, the agency on the phone during that training exercise, stopped handling creative duties on the account.

With sales at longstanding restaurants dropping, and following concerns about the financial stability of some franchisees, the chain is ready to deliver a new message.

"You've heard one voice of Papa John's for a long time," a Detroit franchisee identified as Alaura says in the video, arguably delivering a note of regret for the chain's long use of Schnatter as spokesman.

As the "Voices" spot suggests, the chain now plans to use lots of other people in its ads. The video features 24 people including franchise owners and managers, of Papa John's restaurants around the world, including people of color. The company says they volunteered to appear in the campaign.

The video was directed by Ramaa Mosley, the first woman to direct a commercial for Papa John's, a spokesman confirmed. Mosely is the founder of Adolescent, a global creative studio dedicated to content made by youth for youth.

Even the Papa John's logo at the end gets a name makeover of sorts. The word Papa appears with names of some of those featured in the video following it in a quick scroll, which ultimately ends on "John's."

The "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza" line still appears in the company's logo. But Schnatter's face, which appeared in many renditions of the logo for years, including on the pizza boxes, was wiped clean from the chain's marketing materials after this summer's mess.

The image overhaul includes a microsite featuring stories from employees, its diversity and inclusion plans, as well as selected media coverage of the company since its issues began getting widespread attention.

Papa John's previously said North American same-store sales fell 10.5 percent in July, after falling a steeper-than-anticipated 6.1 percent in the second quarter. In August, it projected such sales, which track performance at longstanding locations, would plunge 7 to 10 percent this year.

Along with Interpublic public affairs agency Powell Tate, which Papa John's brought on to help out earlier this year, IPG's Current Marketing says it is handling consumer media and influencer engagement for Papa John's rebranding efforts.

The ad went online Tuesday. It is set to run on TV starting Saturday, with plans for it to appear during prime-time series and sports telecasts, as well as in viewing on Hulu and Roku.

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