Papa John’s Sticks To “Better,” but Adds Some Fresh Faces

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Better ingredients. Better Pizza. Better branding. Papa John’s.

The wall-to-wall ads football audiences love to hate will soon be a weekly ritual for tens of millions of NFL fans. But the nation’s 4th largest pizza brand is doubling the meat on its marketing and adding to its stable of sports-related pitches. Now it’s got a race car driver.

Leah Pritchett is a fresh face for the brand; she’s certainly fresher than legendary quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning, even a year after retiring. was appearing in much-panned Papa Johns ads last year.

Yes, Pritchett is a woman NHRA Top Fuel drag car racer. But more importantly, Pritchett is 29 years old.  (Manning is just 41, but in football years that’s ancient.)

Adding Pritchett was the first move of Papa John’s new CMO Brandon Rhoten. Rhoten was previously at Wendy’s and until Rhoten came on board, Papa John had been without a CMO since the sudden departure of Bob Kraut in 2015. (Brandchannel.com fielded one of Kraut’s last ever interviews, just two weeks before he left. Read it here.)

In an interview with Ad Age, Rhoten said that Papa Johns was doubling down on its “commitment to better.” This focus on family and communicating the simple message of “better pizza” is a brand position Papa John’s has clung to through thick and thin. “The brand position of Papa John’s is the idea that you get a better pizza. It’s not a commodity play,” Rhoten told Ad Age. “It’s not the cheapest; it’s not the one with the most technology to get it to you. It’s not about the gimmick. It’s not about the price.”

Papa John’s has branched out though. In July, it became the first major pizza chain to add Facebook ordering functionality. Combine that aggressive technological investment with a $500 million share buyback program, and the market is rewarding Papa John’s stock, even though the chain’s recent sales have been lean.

Meanwhile, the leading pizza brand in the US continues to struggle. The best news for Pizza Hut lately has been that its recent fourth straight, same store 1% sales drop was 0.5% less of a drop than analysts predicted.

Don’t worry though NFL fans. Just because Papa John’s is making a play for Millennials doesn’t mean you won’t see Peyton Manning anymore. Rhoten confirmed that Manning will be back this year—alongside star JJ Watt. Watt has already been at work for the brand in the off-season, delivering pizzas to lucky fans.

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