Papa John’s Delivers a Brand Building Winner

Giving more this Christmas

Papa Johns


It’s no secret that brands have worried about what to do this Christmas. With the economy in peril, Covid-19 cases still high and chunks of their audience in lockdown it’s not surprising some marketers have been tempted to skip Christmas this year. Even the mighty John Lewis And Waitrose, the most anticipated advertiser of the season, thought twice about doing an ad.

The problem is that going entirely silent is rarely a good idea. Advertising is a visibility game – you have to keep yourself mentally available. For every Tesla, who are famous enough to make a point of avoiding mass advertising, there are 10,000 brands who don’t advertise… and nobody notices. When you don’t advertise and your competitors do, the audience isn’t sitting there thinking how noble you are. They’re sitting there not thinking about you at all.

So not advertising at Christmas turns out to be as tricky as advertising at Christmas. You need to do the not advertising in such a way that people know about it.

You could do what M&S Clothing did this year, and issue a press release about it to get your name in the papers anyway. You could do what Iceland did in 2018, and put out something that isn’t quite a Christmas ad (“Ran-Tang” the Orang-utan, borrowed from Greenpeace).

Or you could do what Papa John’s have done this year. They’ve funnelled a chunk of their marketing budget into helping people in poverty via Crisis and the Trussell Trust, and they’ve made an ad on a shoestring talking about it, using materials created by their office staff.

It’s still a risky proposition. Using an advert to point out that you’re not doing an advert skirts close to the kind of anti-advertising which often has high brand recognition but zero emotional impact – and can seem too clever by half. (Think back to Doritos’ brief attempt to ditch its branding in 2019).

But Papa John’s have pulled it off. Their ad hits an exceptional 5.1-Star score with no sacrifice of Brand Fluency or Spike (an also exceptional 1.57). It makes its emotional point, people love it, and they still know exactly who it’s for and what it’s selling.

What makes it so good? It gets two things right. One is the animation – it’s jolly and busy and reassuringly cheap. It’s also strongly reminiscent of kids’ art programmes on TV like Mr. Maker, Art Attack or (for those with longer memories) Take Hart. The DIY vibe adds charm to an ad otherwise lacking in human interest.

And the second thing it gets right is what it doesn’t mention. It’s obvious that the reason you’d do this ad this year is the Covid-19 pandemic. But Papa John’s at no point mention the pandemic, or lockdowns, or masks, or even 2020 being a weird year. This almost certainly helped – in analysing adverts which explicitly referenced the pandemic, we found that none of them improved their Star scores over last year’s ads for the same brand. People don’t want to be reminded of the current situation. But they do want to feel that brands are doing some good. And that’s what Papa John’s delivers.