When companies use their CEO as corporate spokesman, it's usually to put a warm, human face on the Big Corporate Entity. And that's because their CEO is someone who actually comes across as a warm, human face. It's what happened with Wendy's and Dave Thomas. John McCann of 1-800-Flowers presents a reasonably personable public image for the company. (It's flowers, after all, the guy's got to be okay, you figure.) And it even made Lee Iacocca of Chrysler a major national figure -- and Mr. Iacocca was not likely a warm and fuzzy guy.
Which is all the more reason I can't figure Papa John's putting its John Schnatter in the forefront on all its TV ads. Even long before he came out whining about maybe having to raise the price of his large pizzas by 14-cents because of the Affordable Health Care Act, I got the creeps whenever a Papa John's ad would pop. For years, I've been scratching my head trying to think, "Who thought this was a good idea?" Far from seeing warm and fuzzy, he strikes me as the most tightly-wound CEO in America (which is an impressive competition to win), someone so anal that he has his secretary plan his coughs. A guy who if the slightest thing doesn't go the way he wants it will explode in anger. He's one of the few people I've ever seen whose body looks tense in a still photograph.
And this is who they think America will warm to as the friendly face of Papa John's? The only thing I can figure is that this has nothing to do with a PR company saying, "Hey, let's put the CEO on your ads because he comes across like such an amazingly nice guy." It seems more a case of John Schnatter saying, "I want to star in the TV ads for my company. Anyone disagree? Hunh?"
It came as no surprise to me when he went on his rant against health care and 14-cents. Yes, he walked it back when the story became a disaster, but to me, those ads are the face of a guy who meant to.
To be clear, none of this is meant as a complaint against Papa John's pizza or Mr. Schatter's politics, or a call to boycott. I've had their pizza in the past, and thought it was pretty good for home delivery. I'd personally be reticent to buy from them for the time being, but I'm not adamant about it. I can absolutely understand people going there for a pie. This only came about for one reason: because a Papa John's ad just ran on TV, and it gave me the creeps. Again. He had his arm around some kid, trying to look like just a regular guy, and all I could think of was yelling at the screen, "Run, kid! Run!! Run for your life before he snaps and strangles you!!!"
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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