Riding Shotgun with Papa John
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Riding Shotgun with Papa John

Holmes Report


To celebrate Papa John’s 25th Anniversary, company founder John Schnatter embarked on a multi-city Road Trip to meet his legion of loyal customers and employees and tell the inspiring story of how he sold his beloved Z28 Camaro to start what is now the world’s third-largest pizza company.  Joining him were two college interns (a.k.a. “sidekicks”) to chronicle the journey – and Papa John’s search for that original Camaro – via social media channels.  Ten weeks – and 1,960 media placements; 1,298 blog comments; and a 6 percent increase in online sales – later, Schnatter not only found his long-lost car, but also connected with millions of people (in-person and online), which translated into an unprecedented level of brand loyalty for current and new customers alike.


Challenge / Opportunity:

In 1984, “Papa” John Schnatter loved two things: cars and pizza.


But he had to give up one love to pursue the other. So, in ‘84 he sold his beloved 1971 Z28 Camaro – his most -prized possession – for $2,800 to save his father’s fledging bar and begin selling pizzas out of a broom closet in the back of the tavern.


Twenty-five years later, Schnatter had grown

Papa John’s into the world’s third-largest pizza company…yet still longed for his beloved Camaro.  It was symbolic of all the sacrifices and commitment required to make Papa John’s a success.  The epitome of the “American Dream.”


So, as part of the company’s 25th Anniversary celebration, Papa John’s turned to Fleishman-Hillard to develop an integrated communications plan to:

1.      Retell the Papa John’s heritage story

2.      Re-introduce John as the modern-day entrepreneurial success story

3.      Engage consumers in the history of the brand by sending John on a multi-city “Road Trip,” sustaining interest through an augmented reality application, plus social media communication from two intern “sidekicks,” including a blog, Twitter updates, Flickr/Facebook photos, and YouTube videos

4.      Conduct a public search for Schnatter’s Camaro, and offer a $25,000 (later upped to $250,000) “bounty” for the return of the car

5.      Support the company’s new “Papa’s In The House” advertising campaign, featuring Schnatter making personal pizza deliveries to surprised customers


Ten weeks, 11 states, 500,000+ slices of pizza, 1,960 stories, 2,300 “tweets” and 204,000 people later, “Papa John” achieved what everyone thought was impossible: he brought his Camaro home and a man from Flatwoods, Ky. left $250,000 richer.



§  Elevate status and influence of Founder by increasing awareness of Papa John’s Camaro heritage story during 25th Anniversary

§  Engage consumers through social media, strengthening Papa John’s technology leadership position while driving Facebook fans, Twitter followers and online orders

§  Drive trial, sales and preference of Papa John’s products


Research / Planning: 

A market analysis as it related to the current economy was vital to the success of Papa’s Road Trip, as was research regarding social media’s impact on consumer buying decisions.  It was also critical to understand the support auto enthusiasts would have for Schnatter’s effort to be reunited with his first love.

§  Approximately 54% of consumers use the web and social media interaction to make purchasing decisions.

§  Chevy Camaro owners rank the second-highest in affinity for their automobiles, according to Consumer Reports

§  More than one-third of consumers said they are eating out or buying dinners less frequently than one year ago – brand affinity is critical when the decision is made to eat in/out.


Additional car research was necessary, too.  In particular, the distinctive attributes of Schnatter’s car (such as the personally installed sunroof and split bumper) and the bi-state documentation required to prove car ownership over the years were key to making the Camaro search legitimate.


In planning the logistics of Papa’s Road Trip, F-H worked closely with Papa John’s restaurant operators in each market to develop a detailed itinerary that incorporated travel/lodging accommodations, at least one media event (always involving another outside party, such as the Dallas Cowboys, NASDAQ, or Willis Tower operations personnel), plus two to three restaurant visits.



Unlike its two primary competitors, Papa John’s has an unrivaled asset in that its company founder, Schnatter, remains actively involved in the business and provides an immediately recognizable “face” of the brand, thanks in large part to his starring role in Papa John’s advertising, including the new “Papa’s in the House” television campaign.  Schnatter, having earlier in the year returned to the company as full-time CEO, was pivotal in re-educating the public on Papa John’s roots and its longstanding commitment to “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.”


In addition, as Papa John’s had established itself as a technology leader in the pizza industry with the introduction of online and text ordering, it was critical to maintain that foothold with a meaningful, effective and differentiating social media strategy.


With those things in mind, the following strategies were put to work:

§  Identify and secure highly-visible national and local media opportunities for Founder

ú  Auto bloggers (particularly those in Road Trip markets) were a prime target, given the Camaro’s prevalence in Papa John’s history and knowing the brand loyalty displayed by this medium’s niche audience

§  Position Schnatter’s replica Camaro as a “co-star” in the campaign, providing context to the brand’s heritage story at high-traffic events during the Road Trip and through the original Camaro search

§  Engage target audience with steady stream of events and promotions throughout the summer, maximized through all communications channels



Papa’s Road Trip brought together the essential components of a social media campaign with a mobile marketing tour, allowing customers, media, and employees alike a first-hand encounter with the company’s founder – whether in-person, online, or both – to enable an unmatched personal connection with the brand’s heritage and values.

§  Created and maintained a website (www.papasroadtrip.com) to serve as a virtual hub for the campaign’s social media tools and garner feedback from customers in the search for the original Camaro

§  Trained two college interns to serve as “sidekicks” throughout the Road Trip, mastering the details of blogging and producing appealing content for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

§  Developed “Augmented Reality” mark to print on 30 million pizza boxes and be used to with Webcam for virtual Road Trip

§  Secured high-profile consumer/media events in 11 markets, including:

ú  Delivery to 2,000+ construction workers at New Cowboys Stadium

ú  Record for the World’s Highest Pizza Delivery at Willis (Sears) Tower

ú  Ringing Closing Bell at NASDAQ

ú  Driving replica Camaro around Daytona Speedway

ú  Throwing first pitch at St. Louis Cardinals and L.A. Dodgers games

ú  FoodBank donations with Colorado Governor Bill Ritter

ú  In-booth interviews during Redskins-Ravens football game

§  Visited more than 25 Papa John’s restaurants to meet with 500+ employees


Upon discovery of Papa John’s original Camaro, a new – and unexpected – phase of the campaign quickly came to fruition, through the following:

§  Determined authenticity of the original Camaro – found after original owners saw Schnatter’s in-booth interview during the Redskins-Ravens football game and then contacted the Houston-based auto blogger at Jalopnik.com – through an analysis of archived bi-state personal property and vehicle records

§  Implemented a national free pizza giveaway to all Camaro owners the day after Schnatter’s reunion with his car

§  Planned and produced a media-friendly “reunion” event at the Papa John’s headquarters in Louisville with Schnatter exchanging a check for $250,000 for the keys to his Camaro


Evaluation of Success/Measurement:

§  Elevate status and influence of Founder by increasing awareness of Papa John’s Camaro heritage story during 25th Anniversary:  1,960 media placements, 387 million impressions, $4.1M ad value

ú  Print (222) – e.g. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Associated, Press, BusinessWeek and Fortune

ú  TV (831) – e.g. ABC News, CNN, MSNBC

ú  Radio (297) – e.g. NPR

ú  Online (610) – e.g. jalopnik.com, autoblog.com, Yum Sugar, Pop Candy

ú  Event attendees across 11 states exceeded 204,000

§  Engage consumers through social media to drive Facebook fans, Twitter followers and increase online orders

ú  676,000+ unique visitors to www.papasroadtrip.com

ú  1,298 user comments on Road Trip blog

ú  312,000 additional Facebook fans; 3,372 new Twitter followers; 2,300 unique tweets, reaching 675,000 people

ú  17,500+ downloads of Papa John’s Augmented Reality

ú  38,000+ video views on YouTube

ú  Percentage of online orders system-wide rose from 22 to 28 percent during promotion

§  Drive trial, sales, and preference of Papa John’s products.

ú  Nearly 1 million free pizza slices distributed during Road Trip

ú  2nd Quarter earnings up 2 percent, while category overall was down 8

ú  36,000+ free pizzas redeemed on “Camaro Reunion Day,” raising year-over-year comparative sales 25 percent nationwide


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