It was a hot topic last week. In an effort to detach the company from its founder’s racial commentary, Papa John’s will kickstart a rebranding strategy. First step: removing founder John Schnatter from all the company’s branding materials, making Papa John’s orphan to its…Papa.
Not wanting to go into the “Was it right or wrong” hubbub there’s an interesting question at hand from a branding perspective. Can a brand who’s identity has always been so deeply associated to its founder, survive without it?
Despite John Schnatter’s controversial political positions in the latest years, and contrary to public belief, Papa John’s revenue has been growing year on year. Although International sales are the fastest growing, the bulk (84%) is still made in the USA.
The domestic strength of the business is quite important since it is in the US where Papa John’s used John Schnatter in TV communication and hence where his association with the brand is stronger. This means that this rebranding strategy is to affect the bulk of the business.
Should Papa John’s change its name?
Many have said that Papa John’s should change its name as part of the rebranding strategy. After all, Papa John’s IS John Schnatter. It’s fair to assume that there’s no removing the founder without taking the name from it.
Papa John’s was founded in 1984, and has poured millions of advertising dollars into building awareness for its brand. A process of changing name would require a heavy ad investment even while trying to make the most of the current brand awareness (example: Papa Pizza by Papa John’s). Let’s not forget that Papa John’s profit margins are quite low while advertising spend in revenue% has been at a flat 4% for the past years. Poor conditions to go on an all out rebranding strategy with a name change.
The Rebranding Strategy – Double Down on the Good
Even though Papa John’s might have a new messenger, its message of “Better Ingredients and Better Pizza” which has been the brand’s communication pillar will not change. If in latest years the slogan and the founder may have had to share the brand’s communication spotlight, now is the perfect opportunity to double down on that slogan.
How? By walking the talk they were never able to: proving that they actually have better ingredients. Showing where ingredients come from, how they’re picked, etc.
A name does not always mean what its creator intended, but rather the meaning clients give it. This shift in communication should reflect that Papa John’s isn’t John Schnatter, but rather a Papa who deeply cares about making better pizza. He’s called John, but he could be called Paul, George or Ringo (maybe not Ringo).
As long as it’s made with care by picking the best ingredients or the healthier processes, just like a Papa would, it’s a better pizza, a Papa John’s Pizza.
You know when you stain your shirt and trying to clean it just makes it even more noticeable? That’s what Papa John’s shouldn’t do. Quoting Mad Men “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”. Let’s hope Papa John’s rebranding strategy talks about better pizza instead of bad founders.