Papa Johns pizza
Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
5 March 2018
The much-needed rebranding of Papa Johns pizza
Rest in Peace, Papa Johns pizza. Or, at least, it was (not) nice knowing founder John Schnatter.
The day after NFL fires Papa Johns pizza as the pizza of choice, Pizza Hut replaces Schnatter’s group. And, yes, I say the NFL fired Papa Johns. You see, the pizza chain stood in the midst of a deal that wasn’t supposed to run out until 2020. So, while Papa Johns spins this as a positive, believe me, it ain’t.
“While the NFL remains an important channel for us, we have determined that there are better ways to reach and activate this audience,” said the new CEO, Steve Ritchie.
He could be right. But only in the sense that Papa Johns pizza needs a complete overhaul. Sales drop 3.9% in same-stores sales for Q4. For the whole of 2017, sales remain stagnant with a 0.1% rise compared to the 4.4% uptick for the entire pizza category.
“The truth? Consumers were tiring of the Papa John act, specifically Schnatter. The brand was only about him, while “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza” means nothing to everyone.”
Schnatter, of course, drew fire when he claimed Papa Johns’ dropping sales were the result of the anthem protests on NFL sidelines. He completely misread the market, watching Papa Johns stock value decline by a third after his comments went public.
The coming overhaul of the Papa Johns pizza brand
The truth? Consumers were tiring of the Papa John act, specifically Schnatter. The brand was only about him, while “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza” means nothing to everyone. It was evolving into a boring brand with a weird touch of egotism. Schnatter appears in every ad, often awkwardly.
For example, a spot featuring Schnatter and former QB Peyton Manning thanking the grounds crew was clumsy. It felt like the Papa Johns founder just wanted to fawn over Manning (who does own some Papa Johns stores).
But I’ll give Mr. Ritchie some kudos. He mentions that the company is making wholesale changes, especially in marketing. No pizza brand needs rebranding more.
Both Pizza Hut (the market leader) and Dominos are emerging with more sophisticated marketing because they realize change is needed. The market dives into making the cheapest pizza at the cheapest prices, plunging into offers so low I can’t imagine they make a profit.
For Ritchie to follow through on his word, the Papa Johns pizza brand must put everything on the table. Nothing is sacred. Once it does that, then the building of a brand beyond price and Mr. Schnatter can happen.
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