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Can Papa John’s Customers Forget About Papa John?

The pizza chain’s new ad campaign puts a diverse group of franchisees, rather than its scorned founder, front and center

A Papa John’s in Miami Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Following multiple scandals involving racial slurs and alleged sexual misconduct, Papa John’s continues to distance itself from scorned founder John Schnatter. The pizza chain’s advertisements were once dominated by Schnatter’s likeness, but a new marketing campaign is devoid of the ousted chairman’s image, putting its franchisees front and center instead.

The new ad campaign launches Tuesday, NBC reports, and features several Papa John’s employees and franchisees of different ethnicities and age groups from across the country speaking directly into the camera.

“You’ve heard one voice of Papa John’s for a long time,” one of the workers says. Another follows with, “It’s time you heard from all of us.”

When asked about the timing of this campaign in light of discriminatory statements made by Papa John’s founder, Melissa Richards-Person, VP of global brand strategy and consumer connection, told Eater, “there were a number of very specific commitments that [Papa John’s new CEO Steve Richie] made... around how we want to do better. We recently promoted a Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Victoria Russell, and started two long-term initiatives for minority-owned franchisees.” Richards-Person notes that after a nationwide listening campaign, the company responded to consumers’ concerns on Twitter. Richards-Person says this ad campaign is “the next step” in the company’s commitment to rebranding as it continues to distance itself from Schnatter’s leadership.

Schnatter resigned as chairman of the company back in July after a recording of him using a racial slur was leaked to the media. He did not go quietly, later saying he made a mistake by stepping down and accusing Papa John’s board of directors of failing to properly investigate the incident. Soon after, an investigative report from Forbes revealed numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against Schnatter and other Papa John’s employees.

Schnatter is still the company’s largest shareholder, and last month launched his own website (SavePapaJohns.com) in an attempt to repair his image, claiming only he knows what’s best for the company. In response, the company released a statement proclaiming that “all of our stakeholders want to save Papa John’s from John.” The pizza chain’s sales have slid following Schnatter’s highly publicized scandals, leading the company to offer its franchisees financial assistance to prevent stores from closing due to weak sales.

While it’s easy to thrust women and people of color into the spotlight to portray diversity, actually supporting those groups is another matter: Forbes’ investigative report into sexual misconduct accusations against the company painted a picture of a workplace where a misogynist “bro” culture runs rampant, further enabled by the alleged complicity of other executives including CEO Steve Ritchie and international president Tim O’Hern. While O’Hern resigned from his post earlier this month, he remains co-owner of several franchises, and Ritchie remains in his executive role.

Watch the newest Papa John’s ad, below:

Papa John’s New Ads: John’s Out, Diverse Franchisees Are In [NBC]
Papa John Is Convinced Only Papa John Can Save Papa John’s [E]

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