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Pizzas and Basketballs and why Marketing people should NOT be left alone May 13, 2008

Posted by psmc in America, Basketball, economics, LeBron James, Marketing, Pizza, Society.
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I happen to live near Cleveland, Ohio, just east of Cleveland in Lake County to be exact. Which makes this area, in NBA terms, Cleveland Cavalier country. We are now into the second round of the NBA playoffs. In the first round Cleveland played against, and defeated, the Washington Wizards, neé Bullets. This is the third year in a row that Cleveland has faced Washington in the first round. Washington has always felt they were the better team (I wonder if they still feel like that after losing AGAIN this year). This year they played a particularly hard and physical series with Cleveland. I think that series averaged one technical foul per game. There was also a suspension, it should have been two, but hey that’s NBA. Anyway, Cleveland happens to have a very talented player, LeBron James. When it is all said and done, he may be one of the best players ever. After one game LeBron mentioned the fact about how physical the Wizards were playing this year and that the referees seemed to be overlooking this fact. He wasn’t complaining or placing the blame on this for any problems the team had, like losing two games. He simply mentioned it.

Well a local Washington Papa John’s Pizzeria decided to make some hay with his comments and produced some T-shirts calling LeBron a cry baby, of course the shirt’s had Papa John’s Logo. Needless to say, there were camera shots of people wearing these T-shirts on television. Apparently only five or six people were wearing these shirts, I also heard that not that many were made, so I suspect someone in Washington made sure the TV people knew about the shirts so they would appear on TV. How this was done I do not know. I would think someone, somewhere had to get some type of renumeration. Most likely it was in the form of pepperoni, much harder to trace than cash. While they made sure the TV people knew about it, the marketing genius forgot to tell the Papa John Corporate Office of the antic. (Not one but TWO goof-ups by some marketing genius)

As a result, several people in the Cleveland area called in to Papa John’s and complained. There was a PR nightmare in the making. Papa John’s immediately apologized to LeBron, the Cavaliers and the people of Northeast Ohio. In an effort to soothe hurt feelings, make amends, avert a PR a disaster and boost cholesterol levels to new highs, Papa John decided to have a special. On Thursday, May 8 they would sell a large one-item pizza for 23¢, limit one to a family.

OK, more thought should have into this plan. I am sure it sounded great in the president’s office, but on the said day, needless to say, Papa John’s was very popular. How popular? One community was reduced to gridlock from all of the pizza traffic, hopefully no one there had any emergencies or pressing business. I know of one accident in a parking lot between two Papa John customers. Another city fattened its coffers by ticketing several cars for illegal parking, $70 fine. There were also reports of a few fights, not to surprising in a day and age where road rage is a problem. One merchant who had his store next to a Papa Johns, spent the entire day telling people they could not park in his lot. One would think that the empty lot might have told these people something, but obviously hunger and/or the need to save money had dulled their thinking. I’m sure he wasn’t the only merchant hurt by this promotion. Another Papa Johns had to close at 4PM due to running out of dough, sending home hungry multitudes. How can you run out of dough? You would think they would have given everyone more flour and yeast. It’s not as if flour and yeast are expensive. Most Papa Johns had lines circling the block. Waiting times approached 2 hours for most to get their annointed pizza. And the majority of these people called-in their orders. Two hours for a 23¢ pizza. Somehow the math doesn’t seem to balance. Let’s not forget the time it took to and from the pizza joint. Apparently people don’t think their time is worth anything when they are not working.

It seems rather silly, all this hassle and confusion for a 23¢ pizza. But this demonstrates the danger of letting Marketing people go unsupervised. One came up with a not only a questionable promotion, they failed to get permission causing a public relation nightmare for the company. Then the company comes up with a plan that caused even more headaches. I think it would have been easier and cheaper for them to have mailed coupons to everyone in Northeast Ohio. First, not everyone would use them. Second, they could have placed expiration dates on them as well as other qualifications. Even if it would have resulted in more pizza sales, it would have spread the insanity out over a longer period and hence be more manageable. Besides, if customers could have come in at any time and not this one specific date, they probably would have bought more items. like another pizza. I know most of the customers that day got just the one pizza. I wonder what the carbon footprint of this 23¢ pizza was? Hopefully Al Gore won’t find out about this.