The solution: leverage the esteem the Papa Gino's name still enjoyed, strengthen the menu and bring in advertising people who understood good food and ads.
That formula seems to be working for Papa Gino's. The chain has seen sales increase by 8% since late spring, when it began a TV, print and point-of-sale campaign assembled by the Seattle office of Salt Lake City-based EvansGroup. Papa Gino's sales last year were more than $135 million.
Three 30-second TV spots are at the core of the still-running campaign, each emphasizing service or menu choices while using some common visuals of Papa Gino's handmade pizza dough and other eye-appealing images.
The first, aimed at positioning Papa Gino's as a place for lunch as quick as fast-food but of higher quality, features four lunch items. The second spot shows portraits of pizza on a gallery wall as edible "Italian masterpieces." The third shows Hollywood film clips of Roman chariot races and Venetian gondolas to emphasize Papa Gino's delivery service.
Bob Taft, who joined Papa Gino's as president in November after five years with Skipper's, a Bellevue, Wash.-based seafood chain, said the campaign is an example of textbook marketing: emphasizing the restaurant's strengths while differentiating it from the competition.
Papa Gino's chief asset was its place in the Boston area as a longtime favorite, having been founded some 35 years ago and now having 180 restaurants between Boston and Providence, R.I.
But in recent years market share had dropped from 45% to 34% among Italian restaurants in their service area, and Papa Gino's disliked an advertising campaign from Houston, Effler & Partners, Boston, last year that seemed to mock a stereotypical Italian woman. Sales also failed to rise.
At the same time, competition was increasing after PepsiCo's Pizza Hut purchased a Boston area sandwich shop chain and began converting the shops to pizzerias.
Mr. Taft knew of EvansGroup's work through its ads for Skipper's and Starbuck's. He brought the Seattle office on board in February and charged Evans with rebuilding brand es teem for the chain.
Dennis Miller, EvansGroup's chief operating officer for the Seattle office, said what was needed was clear to his team.
"The entire campaign is based on a simple premise: Papa Gino's is the place to go when you want genuine Italian food served quickly," Mr. Miller said.
Although managing a $7 million ad effort from across the country may seem awkward, EvansGroup and Papa Gino's have made the relationship work. The agency has an account supervisor in Boston and uses an online system that can transmit copy, artwork and storyboards instantly.