Papa John's eyes sports stars, social influencers as brand rehabilitation efforts continue
- Papa John’s announced plans to partner with star athletes and social media influencers on Instagram and YouTube for upcoming marketing efforts and as it looks to improve its image with consumers, Yahoo Finance reported.
- The pizza chain did not name spokespeople, but said it is searching for ambassadors to promote its new pizzas and revamped rewards program. Papa John's aims to debut six new specialty pizzas next month and may add more cheaper, $6 pizzas to attract customers since price point has put pressure on the company. The unveiling would be in March, around the March Madness college basketball tournament, when people typically host watch parties.
- Papa John's this week reported that North American same-store sales slid 8.1% in Q4 and 2.6% internationally, capping off a dismal year that found the brand embroiled in scandal over the comments of founder and former CEO John Schnatter. Current chief executive Steve Ritchie said February sales trends were improving compared to the end of last year, but did not specify that they were increasing, per Yahoo Finance.
Papa John's plans to pivot to trendy digital marketing tactics — like leveraging social media influencers — amid a continued dip in sales signals that a good deal more work needs to be done to improve its outlook for the future. Ritchie noting that same-store sales improved during February without saying that they returned to growth suggests that the Super Bowl, which is typically the top day for pizza sales in the U.S., didn't provide a significant enough boost to business to spark a true turnaround.
Following Schnatter's ouster over using racial slurs on a conference call last year, among other controversies, Papa John's has continued to try and retool its branding and marketing strategy — a daunting task considering that the founder is attached to the company's name and served as its consumer-facing pitchman for years. Initially, Papa John's took a fairly distinct approach to trying to distance itself from its former leader by spotlighting a diverse group of franchisees, who had seen their sales slide despite not being involved in the executive scandal.
That campaign, assisted by Papa John's then-new AOR Endeavor Global Marketing, successfully created a sympathetic pull toward the brand and led to a "modest improvement" in store traffic, Ritchie said during a call with analysts discussing Q3 earnings in November. Endeavor's CMO is Bozoma Saint John, who previously helped Uber to work through image problems during her time at the ride-hailing company.
Building on that momentum by teaming with YouTube and Instagram influencers could help Papa John's reach millennial and Gen Z consumers, who tend to view influencers as more authentic, engaging and trustworthy than traditional advertising. Partnering with athletes is not new for Papa John's, however, as the pizza chain was an official NFL sponsor before being replaced this year by Pizza Hut. NFL star Peyton Manning starred in a series of Papa John's commercials with Schnatter for years.