Papa John's Focuses On DEI, Values In Agency Search

As news of the Papa John’s creative and media review spread across the trades yesterday (including this one), the U.S. advertising community is clambering for a piece of the chain’s estimated $250-million pie.   

The company-issued statement said it "is prioritizing potential partners in media and creative that can continue to help establish the superiority of our pizzas and share common brand values, including a targeted focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.”

QSR Insider took a deeper look at this statement, and what it could mean for the brand, which has suffered its share of DEI issues in the past -- including a brouhaha over remarks made by founder and CEO John Schnatter, who first stepped down as CEO in 2017 and then resigned from the board in 2018.

Chief Marketing Officer Mark Shambura will lead the creative and media review process. Shambura joined the company in May after serving four years as CMO for MOD Pizza, a 560+ unit chain known for and founded on its commitment to diversity in hiring employees with intellectual and developmentl disabilities as well as formerly incarcerated individuals.

QSR Insider spoke with advertising experts in both QSR and diversity regarding the review, what Papa John’s is missing in its advertising, and what appears to be a renewed commitment to DEI.

“Always happy to hear that any company is calling for a more inclusive marketing approach. It’s simply smart business,” commented Helen Cho, global creative, multicultural and DEI strategy expert, whose experience includes working with brands including McDonald’s, IHOP and Taco Bell.

“GenZ is entering adulthood as the most racially, ethnically diverse generation -- roughly half its members are from communities of color,” said Cho. “Consumers expect to see themselves reflected in the brands they buy. It’s the cost of entry: representation from store employees to franchise owners to social media influencers, along with shared values. Especially in advertising, any time a brand is telling a story, authenticity is key.”

QSR Insider also spoke with Justin Hooper, founder and chief creative officer of Undnyable in Portland, who has extensive expertise in QSR on brands such as Carl’s Jr. and MOD Pizza.

“Papa John's has all the literal -- and figurative -- ingredients to create amazing marketing campaigns, but they are missing a key component: connecting with their consumers,” said Hooper. “They've done a good job showcasing the product through tasty macro-shots and slow-motion cheese pulls, but they haven't spent much time leaning into their core brand values. If they truly abide by them, they need to live up to them and celebrate those everyday pizza occasions we all experience.”

Hooper continued, “And they need to make it fun! All types of people love all types of pizza, all the time. Papa John's needs to meet their audience where they live, in a highly relatable way that is as fun, insightful and as entertaining as the other content their audience watches daily. Then they need to back it up with a strong loyalty program to drive more frequency and reward their best customers for seeking out more of those Papa John moments every day.”

Search consultants Pile & Company are handling the review, which is expected to wrap up by the end of the year.

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