Shaq 'hid' inside pizza boxes to promote Papa John's XL pie

NBA vet appeared in screens hidden in containers for the new Shaq-a-Roni

Published On
Jul 24, 2020

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Papa John’s has teamed up with Shaquille O’Neal, its most famous board member and franchisee, on a special extra-large pizza that raises some dough for the chain’s charitable foundation.

O’Neal himself came up with the Shaq-a-Roni, the chain says. It’s a 16-inch pizza topped with extra mozzarella cheese and extra pepperoni, and cut into the chain’s largest slices ever. 

Credit: Papa John's


To promote the pizza, Shaq surprised some families in the Atlanta area, where he has been a Papa John’s franchisee since 2019, with live Zoom video chats that were shown on flat screens affixed to the inside of the pizza box lids. The families also received $1,000 per year for the next four years to use toward education costs, including books and transportation—plus a year of free pizza.

O’Neal’s videos were shot at his home with a camera rig that was controlled remotely by a production team in Atlanta, Papa John’s said. For the diners’ shoots, very small crews worked outside the families’ homes, following safety standards including on-set medical checks, social distancing and personal protective equipment. While some of the shots look as though they were done inside the families’ homes, that’s the result of framing the shots and shooting through windows and doors, Papa John’s said.

Shaq and his quarantine beard won’t appear for one-on-one conversations with everyone who orders the pizza. Instead, there’s a Snapchat AR 3-D feature for those who order the pizza and point their camera at the special Shaq box, Papa John’s says. It also plans to add additional AR content across its social channels next month.

For each $12 Shaq-a-Roni purchased through August 23 (it's $16 in Alaska and Hawaii), Papa John’s will donate $1 to the Papa John’s Foundation for Building Community. 

The foundation supports COVID-19 relief, the fight against racial injustice, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, United Negro College Fund and general community involvement. Promoting its philanthropic efforts might help Papa John's stand out during what's been a boom time for the chain and for the industry as a whole, as pizza orders have spiked with people eating more of their meals at home. Papa John's comparable sales soared 33.5 percent from late April through late May.

Under new leadership including President and CEO Rob Lynch, Papa John's has made strides to move past the slump that began when its founder John Schnatter criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell regarding players' national anthem protests on a November 2017 investor call, followed by his use of the "n" word during a media training call, as was reported by Forbes in July 2018.

The campaign comes from Papa John’s agency Camp + King.

Papa John's emphasizes the size of the pizza, which comes in a box with Shaq on it, including in B-roll footage that signature cheese pull that’s often seen in food commercials (yet doesn’t often replicate itself at home). Papa John’s typically slices its extra-large pies into 10 slices. The Shaq-a-Roni is an eight-slice pie and the crust is stretched thinner, with the toppings extending closer to the edge, for a more foldable slice, Papa John's says.

Note: Papa John's now says this product contains "extra" cheese and pepperoni and not "twice as much" as originally stated. The story has been updated accordingly.