Pizza company Papa John’s could not offer a better lesson in why brands shouldn't get involved in politics.
What strikes me is that the brand wasn’t even being attacked, or directly connected to the issue at hand.
Yet CEO John Schnatter has chosen to hit out at the NFL and the player protests during the national anthem – accusing them of being responsible for a drastic drop in his profits.
Why did he get involved in such an inflammatory and polarising situation at all? There’s nothing whatsoever to be gained and all he’s going to do is alienate one section of customers by wading in. It has nothing to do with him - so stay out of it.
Players have been protesting during and before the anthem this season to highlight social and racial injustice in the United States. Papa John’s has pulled many of its ads around NFL games and says sales estimates for the next quarter are being revised downwards.
Surveys have shown the majority of whites oppose the protests, while African Americans generally support them. Some team owners are starting to express concerns as fears emerge the NFL’s bottom line is being hit.
As the official pizza of the NFL, Papa John’s shares fell by as much as 13% on November 1 – the biggest drop in two years.
There’s actually a way Schnatter could have got involved and made the point that the reach and OTS for his ads were being affected by the row.
Pizza is great sharing, relaxing food. He could have simply said ‘Guys, this is all getting a bit silly. Why don’t we just sit down together with some Papa John’s pizzas and a few beers – and iron out our differences?’
It lightens the mood instantly, but is great product placement that’s more likely to lead to an increase in sales.
Instead, he’s chosen to attack the NFL for not nipping the protests in the bud - and risks further alienating his customers.
“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” Schnatter said this week.
“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.
“NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”
Media are now reporting how Schnatter donated $1,000 to President Trump’s campaign – a leader who is calling on the NFL to fire any “son of a bitch” who takes part in the protests.
And just to show that, as you step on one political landmine, another is likely to go off in your face, an alt-right group has claimed Papa John's as its official pizza - taking Schnatter's comments as a sign he supports their cause of white supremacy.
Good grief! (They can't even spell 'ingredients' correctly)
The best response to this would be to say nothing, and block this group on all social channels.
But, of course, Papa John's just can't help making a bad situation worse, by putting out a statement saying: "We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza."
So just to recap, the pizza company has offended the African American community, condemned the white supremacist community - and probably confused everyone in between.
Why hasn’t Schnatter learned his lesson? When he criticised the Affordable Care Act five years ago, shares dropped by 4.2% and people threatened to boycott his brand.
Proving politics and business don’t often mix.
As the tabloids would say, there’s no knead – he’s only going to lose dough!
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