Idiots or geniuses? Papa John's Pizza has us all guessing after it turned a moronic business promotion into a stroke of marketing brilliance.
The idiocy was dissing the best basketball player in the world, LeBron James. After he protested rough play in a playoff game against the Washington Wizards, Papa Johns printed and distributed t-shirts at the next game with James' number (23) and the word "Crybaby" on the back.
As you might expect, Ohio fans were outraged. If Papa John's had allowed the issue to run its course, it could have resulted in the closing of numerous Buckeye outlets. Instead, the company chose to show contrition by issuing a formal apology, donating $10,000 to the Cavaliers' youth foundation and -- most importantly -- announcing it would sell entire pizzas for 23 cents at its Ohio stores on the following Thursday.
On that day, shops were mobbed ,even though they were pumping out 300 pies an hour. As a result, the company received a huge amount of favorable press, certainly worth more in PR than the cost of the pizzas served.
I have to wonder why other companies who have experienced bad PR haven't taken similar actions? Mattel might have overcome the lead controversy with some 23 cent Barbies and Hot Wheels. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey might have overcome his embarrassing internet posting scandal by springing for some free iTunes downloads for readers of the blogs and boards where he lurked in disguise. The Comedy Network could have picked a Boston area toll road and picked up the charges for a day to apologize to drivers traumatized by its blinking box PR stunt.
Genius or idiocy? Sometimes the difference is as thin as the crust of a 23 cent pizza.