Well, this is awkward. Papa John’s pizzeria founder John Schnatter believes that his public disgracing by the company he founded amounts to a huge misunderstanding. In the latest twist in the saga of “When Founders Embarrass Their Namesake Brands,” Schnatter argues that the public will welcome him back as the face of the brand once they understand all the facts — so the company should welcome him back, too.
Embodying the optimism and persistence that helped him launch his pizza brand in the first place, Schnatter this week told the AP that he believes he can and should return to TV and radio advertising campaign for America’s No. 4 pizza brand, even in the wake of his dismissal as chairman by the board after he used a racial slur in an internal PR exercise with an agency.
His hasty exit as chairman came several months after he stepped down as CEO of Papa John’s after critical remarks he made last fall, in which he blamed slowing sales on the mishandling of the national anthem controversy by the NFL, a key Papa John’s marketing partner that duly ended its contract.
But that’s all in the past, Schnatter argues. “My persona resonates with the consumer because it’s authentic, it’s genuine and it’s the truth,” he told AP.
Papa John’s isn’t likely to come around, and is busy removing Schnatter’s image from its logo, website and packaging. He told AP that he was testing his return to TV and radio ads before the latest controversy and that the tests came back with “virtually no negativity toward him.”
Schnatter founded and built into America’s No. 3 pizza company, with high brand visibility and recognition built largely through Papa John’s ads during NFL games that prominently featured Schnatter, pro-football stars, and pizza.
Last week Schnatter filed a lawsuit against Papa John’s, alleging that the board treated him in an “unexplained and heavy-handed way” after news of the slur and that, instead of standing by their man and trying to explain what actually happened, the company followed “its usual, and flawed, manner of dealing with false and mistaken reporting.” Schnatter also said that his abrupt resignation as chairman had been a mistake.
And this is the relationship that Schnatter hopes will heal enough that he can go back to being “Papa John” again?
“If this brand has any chance of repairing its reputation, it needs to continue to maintain distance from Schnatter as a spokesperson,” Deb Gabor, chief of brand strategy at Sol Marketing, told brandchannel. “I’m not sure that even if the allegations against Schnatter are false that the public will believe it at this point.”
Gabor and other critics also believe the whole mess points to an unhealthy underlying dynamic at the company.
“Bottom line, no amount of good verbal backpedaling is going to make up for what’s truly the misgivings of a sick organizational culture and multiple data points indicating bad on-the-job behavior by Schnatter himself,” Gabor added.