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Papa John’s new ads move past John Schnatter

Company features franchisees in a series of new marketing aimed at getting past its controversial founder
Photograph by Shutterstock

Papa John’s wants you to know that it’s not just one person.

The Louisville, Ky.-based pizza chain’s newest ad, part of its first major campaign following the departure of controversial founder-chairman-spokesman John Schnatter, features a diverse set of the company’s franchisees and managers talking about the brand and their role in it.

“You’ve heard one voice from Papa John’s for a long time,” Alaura, a franchisee in Detroit, says at the beginning.

“It’s time you heard from all of us,” Zafira, a local store marketing manager in Amsterdam, N.J., says next.

The ad ends with the Papa John’s logo, except it replaces “John’s” with each of the names of the franchisees and employees featured in the ad, before ending it with “Papa John’s.”

The newest campaign, called “Voices,” is set to debut Sept. 22, during the Texas A&M-Alabama college football game on CBS, a company spokesman said.

The new campaign comes as the chain is working to distance itself from Schnatter, who had been the dominant voice on the chain’s ads and marketing for years.

Schnatter ignited controversy last November with comments blaming NFL player protests on the league’s ratings and Papa John’s sales.

The controversy exploded in July when Schnatter acknowledged using a racial slur during a conference call and resigned as chairman of the company. Papa John’s then pulled Schnatter from the ads that featured him for years. It also removed his image from the company’s logo and pizza boxes.

The company, led by CEO Steve Ritchie, has argued that the company has needed to shift its marketing away from Schnatter since the November comments. Papa John’s same-store sales have worsened this year, including a decline of 6.1% in the second quarter and 10.5% in July.

Papa John’s has started providing its franchisees royalty incentives in a bid to keep stores open.

Schnatter himself remains the owner of 30% of Papa John’s stock and has been agitating against the company and its new CEO, filing multiple lawsuits and sending letters to franchisees, employees and the board and publishing all of it on savepapajohns.com.

Schnatter blames the problem on existing management and argues that same-store sales began to worsen before the November comments. He has said he regrets stepping down.

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