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Fast-growing pizza chain Papa John's International is launching its first national advertising-and strongly challenging Pizza Hut's rejuvenated claim to quality.

The No. 4 pizza chain unleashes a secret weapon-Pizza Hut's co-founder, Frank Carney, now a Papa John's franchisee-to take a direct jab at its much-larger competitor in ads breaking today.

The campaign, from Fricks/

Firestone, Atlanta, bears the tagline "Better ingredients. Better pizza."


Papa John's first national TV push follows a year of impressive sales and expansion. Although still a distant fourth, it's catching competitors off-guard as it rolls into dozens of new markets with a pizza many believe tastes better. Papa John's, a carryout and delivery chain, prides itself on using the freshest ingredients to make the best possible pizza; Restaurants & Institutions named Papa John's the best pizza chain of 1996 based on food quality and service.

Papa John's systemwide sales leapt 42.1% last year, to $360.1 million, driven by 290 new restaurants and comparable-store sales growth of 11.9%.

Pizza Hut's U.S. sales last year fell 4.1% to $4.9 billion, Domino's U.S. sales grew 2.2% to $2.3 billion, and Little Caesars was flat at $1.8 billion, according to restaurant consultancy Technomic.

Pizza Hut last week ran back to basics, announcing it is spending $50 million to upgrade the ingredients and preparation technique of its core pizzas.

TV spots from BBDO Worldwide, New York, star company President David Novak, making the new pies and "declaring war on skimpy pizza" (AA, April 28).

Papa John's founder John Schnatter has appeared in the chain's spot TV since 1994. In the latest execution, Mr. Schnatter co-stars with Mr. Carney, who now owns 40 Papa John's restaurants.

"Recently, the retired co-founder of Pizza Hut did something surprising-he bought a Papa John's franchise," says one new TV spot as Mr. Carney walks out to address a stunned audience of Pizza Hut franchisees.

"Sorry guys. I found a better pizza," he shrugs.

In another spot, portraits and busts of Mr. Carney are removed from Pizza Hut's headquarters. (A Pizza Hut spokesman said he does not recall that there ever were busts or photos of Mr. Carney in that company's home office.)


Papa John's is making network TV buys despite its still spotty presence in some markets, said VP-Marketing Syl Sosnowski.

The company has 1,260 restaurants in 39 states but only two stores in the Southwest and three in the Northeast. Pizza Hut has 7,700 U.S. stores and Domino's, 4,300. Technomic estimates Little Caesars has 4,810.

"We've got a lot of stores out there that haven't had a lot of broadcast, yet," Mr. Sosnowski said. "We also feel very good that in the areas where we [have no stores], this will plant the seed about Papa John's."

The chain will spend $5 million on a four-week flight on network sports and late-night programming, and on cable TV's ESPN.

TV represents only 25% of the chain's $40 million to $50 million annual marketing budget, Mr. Sosnowski said.

Papa John's spends more heavily on newspaper advertising and direct mail triggered by a database of customer addresses compiled at restaurant cash

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