Papa John’s International took to social media to tease its new menu item — a pan pizza that was announced Monday — and followed it up with a strange Facebook Live event.

In a news release, Papa John’s called the pan pizza “one of its biggest product innovations in a decade.” Unlike most pan pizzas, Papa John’s version is circular, but it still includes cheese all the way to the edges to help create “a thick, golden crust for a delicious crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside pizza experience.”

The Louisville-based pizza chain is offering customers a three-topping pan pizza for $10.

The day of the introduction, Papa John’s also debuted a new advertisement, featuring spokesman and retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning hosting a party with NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and Papa John’s founder John Schnatter. “The ad debuts the new Pan Pizza with fanfare, smoke machines and cheerleaders,” the release said.

Papa John's took to its Twitter account to hint at an upcoming announcement. | Screenshot from Twitter
Papa John’s took to its Twitter account to hint at a coming announcement. | Screenshot from Twitter

However, the fanfare seemed lackluster on the social media — especially when compared with Taco Bell’s successful effort to reach millennials through social media.

Taco Bell, whose parent company is Louisville-based Yum Brands, went all out for its last big menu item launch, the Quesalupa. People were talking about the new Taco Bell item for at least a month, even though media reported that the mystery item was the Quesalupa.

The company posted a heavily redacted news release about a new menu item and used its Snapchat channel to tease the new product. It also advertised a way that fans could even taste the Quesalupa the day before it went on sale to the masses. The campaign, which had a major Super Bowl ad reveal, created buzz around the brand.

Papa John’s, on the other hand, called the pan pizza one of its biggest product launches in a decade and didn’t start building anticipation around it until a week ago.

Over the last week, Papa John’s posted to Twitter and Facebook a photo of a black box and the words “Something Better is coming.” Monday, the company sent out a news release, posted its new pan pizza ads to YouTube, and posted a picture of the pan pizza box with the words “Better Is Here.”

The culmination of the announcement was a 3 p.m. Facebook Live video, which Papa John’s referred to as #PizzaPandemonium. The video looked as if someone was filming from an office or even a basement. It was simply a television screen with emoji-laden clues to various “puzzles.”

The video, which received 14,000 views and 745 comments as of Monday afternoon, rotated through several questions as music that sounded like Mariachi played in the background. As each answer popped up on the screen, someone behind the camera would pull the string on one of those confetti poppers people tend to use on New Year’s Eve or Fourth of July. Then after just more than 10 minutes, the video ended.

In an AdAge interview, Papa John’s chief ingredient officer Sean Muldoon said the pan pizza outsold the company’s thin crust pizza in test markets, and the company wanted it to comprise a double-digit percentage of Papa John’s total orders.

Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]


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