Sunday, April 11, 2010

Waiting for Papa John

There's always something kind of touching about not especially charming CEOs making themselves the center of advertising campaigns. I don't know all that much about advertising or marketing, although I imagine my years of watching television accord me the same layman-expert status on this topic that most people my age have. But I have a hard time believing that even companies with bad products can't come up with some better way to advertise said bad products than putting their uncomfortable-looking white dude front and center. As painful as the ads featuring Sprint's pinchy CEO agonized attempts to extrude some folksiness are -- and they're pretty painful -- my personal most/least favorite is the new line of Papa John's commercials starring "Papa" John Schnatter. I understand that Papa John's was sort of up against it, here, given that they can't really base the advertising on the actual pizza made by Papa John's, which from my experience tastes like something you'd get at an airport. But as a pitchman, Schnatter certainly can't hold a candle to former Domino's CEO Jeff Noidson (pictured).

Which isn't Schnatter's fault, honestly. He's a CEO, which means that his job is to 1) take Republican congressmen on golf junkets intended to get the FDA to loosen the legal definition of what constitutes "cheese" and 2) give interviews to Pizza Marketplace magazine:

PM: What was happening — or not happening — internally that caused problems?

Schnatter: Our system was asleep. We were on our boats, on our yachts on our golf club memberships, but we weren't paying attention to the fundamentals of the business. That's how we got our tit in the ringer.

Great answer, very instructive. Anyway, the CEO's is obviously a very particular sort of charm -- one that exists at a frequency I can't detect, as it turns out -- and one that Schnatter presumably has. But showing him in commercials impatiently delivering pizzas to hyped-up suburban caucasians -- and capping it by showing him either throwing a tight spiral to a kid or nailing a half-court shot at a Louisville home game -- just doesn't strike me as good marketing. And there's a voice-over guy saying, "Papa's in the HOUSE," as if that were a good thing, and not the sort of thing that would inevitably involve Schnatter steering the conversation around to his issues with the income tax.

Obviously Papa John's story -- sold his car, bought a pizza oven, sold pizzas out of the back of his dad's stabby-looking tavern that were so good as to impress Indianans -- is a big part of the Papa John's brand or whatever, but whose idea was that? The same guy whose idea it was to mention Schnatter's Outstanding Young American Award from the Jaycees on the company website? Before he started founding private ultra-Catholic towns where everyone has to speak Latin all the time, the Domino's guy had a pretty inspiring personal story, too. But they never let that get in the way of other terrible marketing ideas.

Again, I get that you can't advertise Papa John's pizza on its own nonexistent strengths, but given that the CEO -- admirable though his success undoubtedly is -- offers just as much personal warmth as his pizza-that-tastes-like-airport-pizza offers delightful and surprising flavor, you'd think they could find some other way to get this done. I'm not looking forward to the inevitable commercial in which Schnatter hits bombs during BP before a Cincinnati Reds game and Bronson Arroyo passionately groans out Schnatter's "Go Big Papa" theme song to the tune of Pearl Jam's "Black."

Also, if you were wondering, this is not the most inconsequential and over-reported thing ever written about Papa John Schnatter. The winner would be this hilariously comprehensive/inconsequential piece from the British tabloid the Daily Mail, which calls Schnatter on the gaffe (?) of advising radio listeners not to eat a whole pizza in every sitting. I don't know if the same people responsible for that nation's ongoing breaking-glasses-on-each-others-heads epidemic (87,000 per annum!) are going to read an 850-word unbylined article about this amazing non-story, but I'd love to think they would. And I find it almost touching that the Daily Mail gave them just that 850-word piece, the nation's descent into boozy and entropic semi-anarchy be damned.

1 comment:

  1. If we assume for the sake of argument that people similar to white Indianans are the target market, this is a great marketing strategy. We're talking about the heart of the klan. These guys marginalize non-white people so much they could have started 5 white guys on their NBA (!) team last year. Upon learning this reader is jewish, a self-professed liberal Indianan asked if I belong to a "jewish church."

    That a liberal intellectual like yourself, Mr. Roth (i.e. Lieutenant Weinberg), hate this guy creates the presumption that their target market looks at him and says "dangit honey, that is one charming son of a gun." They want John to be the Italian Pappa for adventure's sake, but woah boy he better have a last name like Schatner and if he doesn't play golf I'm leaving.

    Yes this is a year late but I came here from the Pizza Hut link.