Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pizza Monger Meets Pizza Mogul

On a recent fateful night at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., the pizza monger finally met the pizza mogul. In retrospect, it probably had to happen sooner or later.

My 7-year-year old son, Clark, is the pizza monger. Whenever we go to University of Louisville basketball games, Clark’s first stop is at the Papa John’s pizza booth. He always orders a pepperoni personal pan pizza. (These are available only at the games, by the way, from what I can tell). Then – and only then – can the fandom begin.

At a recent game, we followed our regular routine: Enter, get personal pizza, find seats. But this game was to be anything but normal. We had just settled in when I looked up and saw the pizza mogul – none other than Papa John’s founder John Schnatter– standing along the rail near my seats. For those of you who don’t know, Schantter is a native of Jeffersonville, Ind., near Louisville, and is a benefactor of the University of Louisville.

As a U of L grad myself and a lifelong Louisville native, I’ve seen “Papa John” around a few times, but never so close. Not being the shy, retiring type, I immediately called out with the catchphrase from Papa’s latest commercial: “Papa John is in the House!” Having heard this probably a billion times, Papa John gave me the requisite lukewarm nod.

Then something extraordinary happened. Papa spotted Clark with his ballgame staple, a Papa John’s pizza. Obviously liking what he saw, the pizza mogul rushed to the pizza monger and requested a high-five. Palms were slapped. Papa John returned to his post. After a couple minutes, Clark looked at me and said nonchalantly, “Daddy, that was the guy on the box.”

As it turned out, Papa John was at Freedom Hall to film a commercial for the pizza chain that will air during March Madness. At halftime, he even hit a half-court shot. To celebrate, he said everyone in the house would get a free pizza with their ticket stub.

A couple days later, we saw Papa John again, except this time it was only on the box.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Like a Diamond, Good Slogan Lasts Forever

Quick. Can you name the tagline for Coca-Cola? How about for Pepsi? They’re two of the most recognizable brands in the word. They spend a lot of money on advertising. Surely, you can name their taglines, right?

Not so much, according to Steve Cone of Epsilon, who recently spoke to Humana’s marketing team about good marketing. Cone travels the country offering a $50 bill to anyone who can name the soda giants’ taglines. That $50 is still in his wallet.

These examples show that the biggest companies don’t always make the most of their marketing dollars, he said. In fact, Cone contends that bigger the company; the more likely it is that they are needlessly draining their marketing budgets.

If you’ve got a good tagline, stick with it, he said. Coke and Pepsi are two companies that are probably best known for earlier taglines. Have you had a Coke and a smile? Did you join the Pepsi generation?

Good taglines are simple, Cone said, reflecting a company’s values with an attitude. You do know that what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, right? The slogan is actually “Vegas: What Happens Here, Stays Here,” but you get the picture.

Jingles work well, Cone said. He also likes personalizing the brand with a celebrity or a character, especially a character. After all, “Tony the Tiger” never gets caught like Tiger Woods. Finally, integrate your marketing campaign across all platforms.

Follow these tips and perhaps everyone will know your tagline, even if you don’t advertise on the Super Bowl.

By the way, Coca-Cola’s current slogan is “Open Happiness,” while Pepsi boasts that it “Refreshes the Word.” Keep those in mind just in case you run into Steve Cone. You can thank me for the $50 later.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Industry’s Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Had the privilege of attending a luncheon with Courier-Journal president and publisher Arnold Garson recently, and he said, in true Mark Twain fashion, that reports of the newspaper industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Newspapers are too good at publicizing their own problems, he said, while television news rarely reports on its own loss of viewers.

Newspapers remain a profitable industry, he said. Garson said papers that have gone broke have fallen into two main categories: Second tier papers that were artificially propped up for years by “joint operating agreements” and newspapers that unwisely took on too much debt. As other industries recover, so will newspapers, he said.

Garson conceded that newspapers must react to the times, starting with regular price increases, just like other businesses.

He is bullish on print, but can envision a day when a few editions each week are delivered electronically. The biggest obstacle to this is developing an electronic reader that interfaces well with the newspaper format, he said.

In closing, Garson said the C-J will publish his obituary and the obituaries of all of us who had gathered to listen to him, but not its own.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Cup Runneth Over

When I was a cub reporter, I learned one of my first lessons about brand management. I had written about a fire in the small southern Indiana town where I worked. I said the fire moved quickly after spreading to some “Styrofoam cups.”

Several weeks later I got a letter from the good folks at Styrofoam. (Those were the days before e-mail). They were more worried about damage to their brand than damage to the house. They informed me, ever so firmly, that Styrofoam doesn’t make cups. They recommended the alternative “plastic foam” in place of Styrofoam.

I didn’t print a retraction. However, more than 20 years later, I’m probably the only guy you know who calls those things “plastic foam” cups.

Styrofoam may not exist anymore for all I know. Or they may have branched out into cups by now. But I can’t take that chance. Even as I write “Styrofoam cup” in this post, I fear some Internet robot may find the phrase. A letter of admonishment won’t be far behind.

The point is this: You’ve got to be passionate for protecting your brand, even if it’s only with some cub reporter at some small newspaper in southern Indiana. After all, those cub reporters eventually become reporters at much larger papers. They may even become a PR guy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Putting a Steak in the Ground

In my last blog post, I talked about the Brett Favre Steakhouse in Green Bay, Wisc. While I don’t know anything about the place or its finances, I can’t help but wonder if it represents a cautionary tale for us as investors.

Chances are the steakhouse was once considered a “can’t miss” investment. I imagine the pitch went something like this, “This is a sure thing. We’re talking about a restaurant named after the most beloved athlete on the community’s most beloved team. We’ll just fill the place with Packers memorabilia and the food will fly out there.”

I bet it did, too. The place was probably buzzing with excitement, including an occasional visit by Favre himself. It probably felt like it would never end.

But nothing is forever. Favre waffled on his retirement, then clashed with management. By the time he signed with the New York Jets, I bet the crowds in Green Bay were already thinning out. “Don’t worry,” backers probably said. “Brent has a lot of goodwill in this town.”

Judging by what I saw on my recent visit, they slapped a couple Jets photos on the wall and proceeded as if nothing had really changed. What they hadn’t banked on was Favre signing earlier this year with the Packers’ most hated rival, the Minnesota Vikings. No way to spin that one, which is probably why I didn’t see Favre in purple on the wall.

Favre went from beloved to persona non grata. An idea that seemed inspired now seems shortsighted.

Sure, Brett Favre’s Steakhouse still serves a pretty mean Brett Favre signature steak. The restaurant is far from deserted from what I saw, even on a weekday. But I can’t help but wonder if it’s far from its heyday, too. After all, there’s not much of a chance of Brett dropping by these days. Even if he did, I’m not sure he’d bolster sales very much.

I imagine entrepreneurs pitching a new idea now. “It’s this theme restaurant,” they’re probably saying. “It’s going to be huge. Aaron Rodgers is on board.”