Net Debut for Papa John’s: Fricks/Firestone TV Takes First Shots at Pizza Hut

By Katy Eckmann

ATLANTA–Papa John’s, the country’s No. 4 pizza chain, takes swipes at behemoth rival Pizza Hut in its first network television campaign, breaking today.

Backed by a $5 million media budget, the television commercials were created by Fricks/Firestone here, newly christened to reflect the partnership status of creative director Elliot Firestone.

The two spots use humor to leverage the fact that Pizza Hut co-founder Frank Carney, who sold the chain to PepsiCo in 1977, is now a proud Papa John’s franchisee. One commercial opens on a Pizza Hut franchisee meeting, where attendees are appalled to see guest speaker Carney wearing a Papa John’s logoed shirt. ‘Sorry guys, I found a better pizza,’ says Carney.

The other execution shows Pizza Hut employees removing evidence of Carney’s existence from their offices, including a large portrait and a bronze bust. Both spots show Carney discussing his switch with Papa John’s founder John Schnatter and end with the tagline, ‘Better ingredients. Better pizza.’

‘I think we’ve fired an effective first shot,’ said John Fricks, president of Fricks/Firestone, referring to No. 1 Pizza Hut’s publicized intentions to curb its sagging sales by improving the taste of its pies. Dallas-based Pizza Hut recently launched ads touting those changes.

Fricks views Pizza Hut’s move as a reaction to Papa John’s strategy of using higher quality ingredients, which the latter claims contributed to 1996 sales of $619 million, up from $459 million in 1995.

Network television is new to Papa John’s, which previously advertised only in spot markets. The two new commercials have an initial flight of three weeks, and a third, which does not use Carney, is currently in production.

Last fall Papa John’s solicited creative ideas from Fricks/Firestone (then known as Fricks Advertising) despite its agency-of-record relationship with The Richards Group in Dallas.

Syl Sosnowski, Papa John’s vice president of marketing, said the pizza chain will continue to use both shops.

‘It works well,’ said Sosnowski. ‘They’re two terrific agencies.’

The Richards Group is currently producing radio and some print advertising, and created one television commercial that ran in April.

The Fricks/Firestone name change acknowledges the contributions of creative chief Firestone, who attracted the Papa John’s business from a prior relationship with the chain.

The name change will ‘communicate the agency’s commitment to creative,’ said Firestone, who joined the shop in 1995.

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