Papa John’s Announces Its New Creative Agency of Record With Some Tweets and a Pizza Delivery

CMO Brandon Rhoten calls out Laundry Service

The chain wants to reach consumers where they live with a message focusing on quality. Facebook: Papa Johns
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Papa John’s recently concluded its creative agency review, and the chain chose a unique way to break the news to the winning shop.

This afternoon, CMO Brandon Rhoten called out Laundry Service and its founder and CEO Jason Stein with a series of tweets just as a fresh batch of pizzas arrived at the agency’s Brooklyn headquarters.

“We had a pretty good idea that we had won,” Stein said, adding, “Brandon is pretty forward thinking. He’s into doing things in a unique way and shaking up this industry a little bit, which is very exciting for an agency.”

The two executives first met a few months ago on Twitter, of course. As Stein tells it, they found common ground in the belief that “marketing needs to be done in a holistic way across TV, digital, out-of-home and social. It’s really important that you don’t think of TV first or separate from digital.”

“Frankly, I’m media agnostic,” said Rhoten, who brought a similar line of thinking to his last job as vp of advertising, media and digital/social at Wendy’s. During his tenure, the chain successfully moved beyond “Where’s the Beef?” with the help of VML, an agency not known for its TV work.

Papa John’s reached out to 10 agencies for the review and ultimately brought in eight to pitch including the incumbent, Grey New York. In explaining what made Laundry Service stand out, Rhoten noted that 60 percent of Papa John’s orders originate online, calling it “more ecommerce” than many traditional sit-down or drive-through chains.

“The way Laundry Services approaches marketing is, ‘Where’s the audience and how can we influence their behavior?’ That leads you often times to digital channels, but it ultimately provides an idea that’s bigger than a medium,” he said.

Creatively speaking, Papa John’s competitors have focused on innovation. Domino’s recent campaigns highlighted tech gadgets like the Domino’s Tracker and the pizza delivery car, and Pizza Hut joined in earlier this year with a pair of shoes that allowed customers to order a pie by pressing a button. But Rhoten thinks it’s still all about the ingredients. “Pizza is about as commoditized as it gets,” he said. “Anybody can do the cheese shot.”

This doesn’t mean future campaigns will move away from featuring founder and CEO John Schnatter, who Rhoten called “a powerful metaphor” for entrepreneurship and the brand at large. “Our opportunity is focusing on the pizza and the reasons it’s better,” he said.

A Grey spokesperson declined to comment for this story, and Rhoten did not elaborate on the review process. But last month, sources confirmed that WPP CEO Martin Sorrell had assembled one of his famous brand “teams” to try and retain the account against what others called long odds.

Rhoten estimated that Laundry Service’s first work for Papa John’s will launch in the summer of 2018. The chain spent $156 million on paid media in the U.S. last year and $61 million during the first six months of 2017, according to Kantar Media.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.