No other NFL sponsors came forward to criticize the NFL or blame the NFL player protests for any declines in their business. Neo-Nazis saw a potential ally and tried to claim Papa John’s as the official pizza of the “alt-right.” Eventually, Papa John’s apologized. If your sales are down, chances are the problem is within your own business operations and within your control to change -- not some external situation. But, even if that’s true, this is still a chance for Papa John’s to rethink how they’re marketing their own business and perhaps diversify their marketing allocations. Papa John’s made a mistake by unnecessarily inserting themselves into a contentious political issue – the NFL players’ protests during the national anthem. Papa John’s threw the NFL, among its biggest marketing partners, under the bus! Even if Papa John's had some valid complaints about how the NFL was handling the player protests -- even if Papa John’s really was losing business because of the NFL partnership -- the way they handled this situation made them look petulant. Papa John's is a family-owned business founded by Papa John. People make mistakes. People buy from brands that are positive, friendly and approachable, not brands that complain about their own business partners.
Papa John’s is one of America’s most prominent pizza restaurant chains, with advertisements appearing during NFL broadcasts, known for its slogan of “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.” However, recently Papa John’s attracted unwanted attention and criticism for the way its founder and CEO John Schnatter responded to the NFL national anthem player protest controversy. On a conference call, “Papa John” Schnatter was quoted saying that “The NFL has hurt us…We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.”
The company, which has a sponsorship deal to be the official pizza company of the NFL, appeared to be pointing fingers at the NFL’s players’ protests during the national anthem as a major cause of Papa John’s lower-than-expected sales and declining stock price.
Papa John’s quickly was criticized in the media, on late night talk shows and by people online for blaming the NFL’s player protests for its business challenges. No other NFL sponsors came forward to criticize the NFL or blame the NFL player protests for any declines in their business. Papa John’s soon found itself playing defense. Neo-Nazis saw a potential ally and tried to claim Papa John’s as the official pizza of the “alt-right.” Eventually, Papa John’s apologized.
This whole story is a great example of what not to do to market your business. Whatever industry you’re in, whatever size of business you run, here are a few marketing “don’ts” from the Papa John’s NFL saga:
1. Don’t blame others for your performance.
When sales are declining, look at your own work product and your own operations. Listen to your own customers, business partners and front-line employees. What are people saying? What’s changing? If your sales are down, chances are the problem is within your own business operations and within your control to change — not some external situation. Before you blame someone else, take a thorough inventory of what is within your control, then evaluate what changes are possible.
2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Papa John’s has a big marketing partnership with the NFL. It has clearly invested heavily in its NFL sponsorship — so on some level, it’s possible that a decline in NFL TV ratings would be significantly bad for Papa John’s business. But,…