The Founder-Led Branding Dilemma.
I recently caught up with the news that global pizza chain Papa John’s is set to remove the image of their founder from company branding. Papa John’s Chairman and founder, John Schnatter made a racist remark during an internal training session with senior staff and an outside agency and that was enough to see him first resign from the company and now be removed as the brand figurehead.
With 5,212 stores around the US and UK, Papa John’s is the third largest pizza restaurant chain in the world and has leveraged the brand image of their founder to successfully grow. But as they have discovered, founder-led brands can be a double edged sword. And as large corporations become more sensitive to their market places and the manner in which they are perceived, the challenge becomes greater still.
Brands with a strong ‘founder story’ have always had a significant leverage over brands without. There is something about connection with the human story that has most consumers responding positively towards a brand with a real human face. In the US market this is doubly so as the rags-to-riches (or pizza maker to pizza king) story is celebrated as a grand part of what makes America great.
But having ridden the advantage that Schnatter as the boy next door face of Papa John’s provided to grow from a single pizza restaurant to an international corporation, the business found itself beholden to the actions of its founder. Reading the back news reports it appears the racist remark was the final straw in a litany of politically and sexually insensitive behavior. But the dilemma remains for businesses who build their brands upon the image of a founder – take advantage of the consumer relationship momentum it affords, but risk it all should that founder step out of line.
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more here
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Pic. Papa John’s web site