New research from television analytics firm Ace Metrix shows that Papa John's ongoing use of CEO/founder "Papa" John Schnatter in advertising campaigns has proven effective.
The three year study assessed the performance of national television ads for brands that use CEOs in their spots. Of more than 13,000 ads studied, 76 ads featured CEOs across 12 brands.
Consumers were surveyed within 48 hours of the airing of the commercials, measuring information, relevance and desire attributes. Schnatter was featured in 47 ads for the company. Seven Papa John's ads did not include him.
"Papa John's was very successful at producing high performing ads that featured Schnatter. When examining open-ended responses, we found that these ads – as conventional wisdom predicts – were perceived as authentic, genuine appeals," wrote the report, titled "CEOs in Advertisements: What Happens When the Boss Steps into the Spotlight?"
Highlights of the Papa John's strategy
According to Ace Metrix's research, there was nearly a 60-point difference between ads that featured Schnatter and those that did not. The ones without the "front-man" strategy fall below average, whereas those with the CEO perform at the top of the pizza category and above average compared to all other ads.
Notably, the chain's ads were more consistent than its competitors' ad copy, even though Pizza Hut and Domino's both had ads that measured favorably.
In analyzing Papa John's ad resonance, Ace Metrix frequently found mentions that emphasized positive personality concepts such as "genuine" and likeable" in reference to Schnatter.
"For instance, a female respondent, 21-35 years old, wrote 'The spokesman was very down to earth and had a very 'every man' relatable quality that made you trust him. He must be endorsing a great pizza.'"
Another commented that the ad made her believe that "Papa John is a real person who cares about the success of his business."
Ace Metrix concluded that "by allowing Papa John to be Papa John, these ads developed a positive, humanized brand image."
Compared to other front men as spokesmen strategies
In addition to Schnatter, Samuel Adams & Sam Adams Light's CEO Jim Koch was also featured in the research as a successful example of a company using its front man as its spokesman.
Ace Metrix concluded that the restaurant industry is where the CEO as front man strategy most frequently occurred. Almost three-fourths of ads in the database that featured a CEO were from brands in the restaurant industry.
Although Papa John's skewed these statistics with its heavy rotation of Schnatter-centric ads, the highest scoring ad in the study was for its competitor Domino's Pizza and its "Rate My Chicken" campaign. The commercial, which includes CEO J. Patrick Doyle, asks consumers to rate a new Domino's chicken product.
However, not all ads featurings CEOs always perform well. The lowest scoring CEO ad in the past three years was "Roger Eaton Apologies," for KFC. The ad faced an uphill battle from the start, as its purpose was to make a public apology for not being able to honor coupons for free chicken.
"In a sense, CEO Roger Eaton should not be blamed for the poor performance of this advertisement as its poor showing is likely at least as much a function of delivering bad news about no free chicken as it is an inability to connect with viewers," the report said.
From the study, Ace Metrix concludes that CEO ads do work if they're done right. That means delivering direct, trust-inspiring messages that gets viewers' attention. The ads work best if the CEO comes across as "genuine."
Ads where the CEO is boring, dull or fails to communicate a positively differentiable ad tend to not connect with consumers.
"Many of the CEO spots that failed could have been prevented. Let the data decide, if the ads perform poorly, find alternative means to get the message across," the study concludes. "In the case of CEO ads, there is a lot more at risk because it is not only the ad that could fail, but the CEO's image and reputation could be irreparably tarnished as well."
Check out the entire white paper about CEOs in advertisements here.
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Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.