Papa John's new TV ads put the focus on the company's other faces

Key Points
  • Papa John's will debut a TV ad campaign on Saturday, its first since its founder's ouster.
  • The campaign, dubbed "Voices," features 24 Papa John's employees, managers and franchisees talking about their experiences with the brand.
  • The launch of the campaign, which is earlier than some had expected, comes as the company's sales remain under pressure.
Signage is displayed outside a Papa John's International pizza restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Papa John's is hoping to set a new tone for the brand by debuting an ad campaign, the first since its founder John Schnatter was ousted as chairman in July.

On Tuesday, the company revealed the 60-second TV commercial, dubbed "Voices," which features 24 Papa John's employees, managers and franchisees talking about their experiences with the brand.

"You've heard one voice at Papa John's for a long time. It's time you heard from all of us," says the ad, cutting together voices from several franchisees.

The new advertising replaces Schnatter's image, which has long been central to the company's marketing and signage, with the other faces of the company.

Papa John's sales are in trouble. Schnatter started a very public feud with the company's board after they forced him to step down as chairman after it was revealed he had used the N-word on a conference call in May. That incident, and another in November, when he criticized the National Football League, has chased customers away.

The pizza chain's same-store sales in July took a 10.5 percent hit, and that could just be the beginning. Papa John's said in early August that customer sentiment continued to sour and the company and its franchisees were bracing for weaker sales and possible store closures. According to recent checks by Stifel, sales at restaurants open at least 12 months have continued to decline in the third quarter, and are estimated to be down 10 to 11 percent.

"Clearly, we want to put this in front of as many consumers as possible, as quickly as possible," Melissa Richards, vice president of global brand strategy for Papa John's, told CNBC.

In the wake of these troubles, the beleaguered pizza chain hired Bozoma Saint John of Endeavor Global Marketing, who assisted Uber during its campaign to revitalize its image last year. The hope was Saint John would do the same for Papa John's.

Endeavor brought on Ramaa Mosley, a 20-year veteran of the film industry, to interview more than 60 managers and franchisees at Papa John's annual global franchisee conference about their experiences with the brand and direct the advertisement.

Mosely is the first female director to take on a Papa John's commercial, Richards said. Going forward, the company has announced that all future projects must include at least one bid from a woman.

The 60-second spot is expected to air on Saturday during the Texas A&M college football game against Alabama. The ad will also be shown during the season premiere of "This is Us" next Tuesday as well as during "Chicago Med" and "Empire" next Wednesday and during "How to Get Away with Murder" next Thursday. These television programs are incredibly popular and draw in a large number of viewers, particularly for season premieres.

In addition to the television commercial, Papa John's is expected to release four vignettes featuring several managers and franchisees on its social media accounts.

This will be the second social media campaign created by Papa John's in the wake of its founder's departure. Last month, the company published a video on Facebook and Twitter that addressed customers' outrage. The video used actual customer Tweets that called out the pizza chain over Schnatter's remarks and demanded Papa John's change its policies if it wants their business back.

"You expected better from Papa John's," says the video, which was posted on Facebook and Twitter. "So did we."

Representatives for Schnatter did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Shares of Papa John's were flat during in afternoon trading Tuesday, but have cratered more than 17 percent since January.

Disclaimer: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC and NBC Universal broadcasts "This is Us" and "Chicago Med."