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Leadership And Unintentional Branding.

Leadership, Businesses And Unintentional Branding:


Leadership, Businesses And Unintentional Branding

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As a leader, you are your brand. Your image is your brand. Marketing is mostly about branding. Promoting that image the right way is essential. Some branding campaigns are intentional, while some are not.




Background and Context:

Most pizza lovers like myself, if not all, recognize this gentleman. My decision to attach his image instead of the product itself, is to help illustrate my point. This is Papa John’s, founder, CEO and iconic mascot, John H. Schnatter. He officially stepped down on Jan 1st, 2018, after publicly taking a political stance and inserting himself in a highly contentious issue. This action temporarily and unintentionally created a negative brand identity, making Papa John’s number 21 on the list of the most polarizing brands in the United States.



Many CEOs take political stance and gravitate towards one political party. These businesses barely suffer a ‘noticeable’ backlash from the other party and ideologists. What made Papa John’s different? The CEO was the face of the product. He is on the pizza boxes, the website, the print materials, the commercials, etc. This is not the first time Schnatter vocalized his support for one political party, but this time, however, he delved into a highly contested issue, with both sides passionately defending their beliefs.



What Happened?

During the NFL protests, when one side believed they could use the platform to peacefully protest injustice, and the other side viewed these actions as an attack on this beloved American tradition, Papa John’s CEO decided to vocalize his personal opinion and disdain during a conference call with investors. Blaming what he considered a lack of leadership by NFL management, for the decline in pizza sales. Of course, the marketing community believe otherwise, stating that a business should never put all it’s marketing eggs in one basket, among other marketing mistakes. Other pizza giants, like Pizza Hut, did not suffer a decrease in sales during these protests. People on both sides were passionate about the issue, but they still ordered pizza.



Accidental Branding and Unintended Consequences:

This action attracted a lot of criticism. Another unintentional consequence was when a neo-Nazi group saw this as an opportunity to claim Papa John’s pizza as their official pizza.

“We were going to order from the local place where we get pizza all the time, but we said no, Papa John’s is the official pizza of the alt-right now,” said Eli Mosley, the 26-year-old leader of the white separatist group Identity Evropa. “We’re just supporting the brands that support us.



Of course, this did not sit well with one side, and those on the fence:

A boycott campaign started on social media, causing a more significant decline in sales. Plus, its share price fell by 13 percent between the earnings call and the close of business on that Tuesday. This unintentional branding action by the CEO caused him to apologize and step down, giving Papa Johns an opportunity to recuperate. Just like United Airlines, Papa John’s had an opportunity to implement damage control strategies that saved the brand, but not all individuals and businesses are this successful.




It is a risk. It could go very well, but it can quickly take a dive when that one individual makes controversial decisions in his/her personal life, or takes a stance on public controversial issues. In other words, leaders should not get involved in politics and polarizing issues. Be careful and stand for what is right and fair. You can almost never go wrong with that approach.