Papa John’s has no problem serving up a lighthearted dis to rival Domino’s.
In a new ad campaign called “Pizza Family,” Papa John’s (PZZA) has developed an entirely new message around the tagline “We’re more than a pizza company, we’re a Pizza Family.” The spots—the first will debut a few hours before this weekend’s Super Bowl—feature real employees for the first time, as well as a newly redesigned pizza box and logo.
“The picture of my mug with the people behind me are actually real employees. One lady has been here 33 years,” CEO and founder John Schnatter—often the face of the brand—told Fortune in an interview. He added that what the advertising agency, Grey, was trying to convey with the campaign is an underlying theme that wasn’t always made clear in marketing: the teamwork element at Papa John’s.
The ad also takes some jabs at an unnamed rival—making fun of pizza drone delivery and self-driving robotic machines. Larger pizza chain Domino’s (DPZ) has experimented with both of those futuristic delivery methods and was likely the intended target. Domino’s, of course, isn’t named (the rival is called Pizza Corp.). Papa John’s, in the ads that feature Schnatter, thinks pizza should be sold on a simpler premise.
“Are you kidding me? Gimmicks don’t make better pizza. Our people and ingredients make better pizza,” Schnatter says in one advertisement.
Americans spend roughly $40 billion at pizza restaurants annually and sales for that sector continue to grow impressively despite a broader softness in the restaurant category as a result of falling grocery store prices and weaker traffic at brick-and-mortar retail shops where restaurants are also a destination. Both Papa John’s and Domino’s have reported steady sales growth in recent years as they outperform their rivals.
Schnatter says that one key ingredient is that consumers view the brand as authentic because a founder is backing the product. He points to his strong Q Score—a measurement of a celebrity’s recognition and likeability—as a strong selling point as well. Schnatter says he ranks at 206 out of about 4,000.
At one point during the interview with Schnatter and President and COO Steve Ritchie, the topic of advertising in a politically divisive environment was discussed. Big new outlets including Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal each raised the question about how advertisers can generate buzz without offending anyone. One ad that media outlets and consumers have read into: an ad by beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) that focuses on the immigrant story of German co-founder Adolphus Busch.
Ritchie says that Papa John’s main goal is to steer clear of policies and politics. “For us, we are kind of boring like this, we are all about quality,” Ritchie said. “Every single day, we are trying to figure out how to make our quality better. If you look at research on consumers, quality is becoming further and further out in front as their number one [priority].”
Schnatter—who has in the past been vocal on regulation, executive greed and Obamacare—didn’t weigh in at all about the quagmire that advertisers face today. Papa John’s wants ad campaigns to very narrowly focus on pizza, because as Ritchie explains, “That’s what we do well and that’s what we know.”