In June 2019, after enduring rounds of pitching to become the new creative agency of record for beleaguered pizza chain Papa John’s, Camp + King had reached the final stage—the equivalent of the boss battle in a video game. In this case, the boss was Shaq.
NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal earlier in the year had become the company’s brand ambassador, board member and a franchisee owner. A compatibility meeting with him was the final hurdle. Founders Chief Creative Officer Roger Camp and CEO Jamie King waited patiently with Creative Director Rikesh Lal and Managing Director Kristin Barbour inside a glass-walled conference room in Vegas. And then, Shaq walked in. With a camera crew.
Unbeknownst to them, the Camp + King team had also landed bit parts in the NBA player’s series “Shaq Life.” Whatever went down, good or bad, would be memorialized in the annals of reality TV.
Camp + King ultimately scored, but the reality show didn’t end—the agency appeared in two more episodes. It also brought that framework to its first campaign for Papa John’s, “It’s a Better Day,” which saw the NBA vet entrenched in every aspect of the company, making pizzas, delivering pies and even welcoming his social media followers into the boardroom to preview new products.
Positive sales growth
The results were remarkable. After a downward spiral following the racial slur and glaring missteps of former CEO/Founder John Schnatter, by the end of 2019, the company saw its first positive comparable store sales growth (1 percent in the third quarter) in two years. By Q1 2020, that grew to 5.3 percent, with help of a retail campaign featuring the voice of John Leguizamo.
While Shaq’s influence is undeniable, the agency served a key role, too. There are hurdles to working with someone who has, in the words of Sports Illustrated, “endorsed nearly everything on the planet.” He’s promoted products ranging from Icy Hot to JCPenney, so the challenge was to communicate that, in the case of Papa John’s, Shaq’s heart was truly in the game. “We had to make sure people understood he was much more than just a spokesperson,” Camp says.
Camp says the agency’s M.O. has been to combine strategic thinking with breakthrough creative to make work that “people talk about.” Such was also evident in a campaign for longtime client RE/MAX, which included a tool for realtors that allows them to make their own ads. The agency increased recognition for lifestyle and apparel brand Prana with the “Day Job to Dream Job” campaign, which gave a lucky consumer $100,000 to drop their current gig to pursue a true passion.
King likes to describe the shop as “eclectically effective,” referring to the broad scope and skills evident in such work. “We take pride in that we’re not pigeonholed into the ‘funny’ agency or the ‘soulful’ agency,” he says. “If you watch our reel, it reflects the clients themselves.”