Pizza and football go hand in hand, so it's no surprise that the Super Bowl has become the ultimate event for pizza brands looking to reach hungry sports fans. But breaking through the Big Game clutter (and making a lot of dough) is no small task, particularly for companies like Papa John's, which didn't pony up $4.5 million for a 30-second TV spot this year.
Instead, Papa John's will do an end run around the other Super Bowl ads with an on-site activation at the University of Phoenix Stadium and what the company claims will be its biggest social promotion to date. The chain hopes to take 1 million pizza orders during the game—and, of course, to crush the competition at Pizza Hut and Domino's. So, what's Papa John's game plan? We called CMO Bob Kraut to talk pizza and sports.
Why is Papa John's running this Super Bowl campaign without actually having an in-game ad?
What we wanted to do was take the passion [for sports] and bring that to the fans. We've done a five-month activation called #UpYourDance and basically invited people to film their dance moves after their favorite player makes a touchdown. At the Super Bowl, we're actually going to have a display with our mobile kitchen where people can sample pizza. Next to it, they can work it off and show us their best dance moves, which will be filmed and posted. Then we'll have a winner of the #UpYourDance contest who will win tickets to Super Bowl 50. We're pretty much doing everything except running an in-game ad. Our thought is the season-long activation is a really important element. For us, it made sense to activate before and around the game and leverage social media to meet the goals that we have laid out for Papa John's.
You're aiming for 1 million orders during the Big Game, right?
More than half of our sales are now digital and a growing portion of that is mobile. We're gearing up our team and all of our systems internally to get ready to handle that volume. Our delivery drivers—who really are the unsung heroes of the Super Bowl—will travel the equivalent of circling the Earth 12 times that day if you add up all the mileage.
Have you ever done any kind of social campaign like this in the past?
We've done Super Bowl activations—this is the fourth Super Bowl that we are the official pizza of the NFL. We've done ground activations, but we've never really engaged with our fans on social media in the scale that we have now.
You're rolling out a bacon cheeseburger pizza on Feb. 2, the day after the Super Bowl. Is that part of a new menu that you're trying out?
Occasionally, we try to do limited-time offers, and this is one of them. What we try to do is give people more and give them what we call high-end specialty pizzas. That's what we do to keep people interested in the brand.
Before starting at Papa John's, you also worked at Arby's and Pizza Hut. What have you learned about why brands use the Super Bowl to advertise?
There are going to be more than 100 million people watching the Super Bowl, so there is no other bigger [marketing] platform during the year. When brands want to make a statement about themselves that gives customers news, I think that's an important forum.
Where will you watch the game?
I will be in Phoenix on the ground. We've got a war room, and we have a ground force that will be present at the game that will be able to coordinate all of this activity. If it's anything like last year, I will be at the game making decisions in real time. That's the only way you can do it with social media and trying to capitalize on the game.
What's your favorite pizza topping and what's the most popular?
There's a pizza called John's Favorite—it has three types of meats, and that's my favorite. Our highest volume pizza is cheese and pepperoni, so that's No. 1 [in popularity] and always has been.