Papa Murphy's Photos courtesy of Papa Murphy's

Papa Murphy’s targets busy moms in new ads

Operator hopes first national TV campaign will help reverse a sales slump

Papa Murphy’s Holdings Inc. hopes moms can pull the chain out of its sales slump.

The Vancouver, Wash.-based take-and-bake pizza concept, working to reverse a deep slide in same-store sales, is planning its first nationwide television campaign starting next week. The media move is a key milestone for the 1,600-unit chain that views itself as the next big national pizza player.

“Getting to national TV has been a dream of this brand for years and years,” said Brandon Solano, Papa Murphy’s chief marketing officer. “There are several markets where we’re on TV. But there are many markets where we’re not on TV.”

The campaign is titled “Papa Murphy’s Law,” and it targets the brand’s core customer of busy parents. The ads will start running on Monday.

Parenting is difficult and chaotic, the ads express, and Papa Murphy’s pizza brings simplicity and order because it enables parents to provide a home-cooked meal without the mess and trouble of making it from scratch.

“Moms have changed,” Solano said. “In the past, they really strove for perfection. There was a lot of judgment if you weren’t perfect and your kids were not perfect. But with the changing dynamics of parenthood and motherhood, being perfect is not a requirement. Parents are engaging with kids, spending time with them, and celebrating the imperfection of parenthood.”

The ad features real families, using humor to depict life with children. It plays off the Murphy’s Law adage that states that what can go wrong, will go wrong.

“Moms have a chaotic and crazy life with kids,” Solano said. “If they come in with Papa Murphy’s, they get a wholesome meal. There’s convenience and control for them. If you start with wholesome, at least chaos won’t reign at dinnertime.”

The first set of ads will feature a $9 all-meat pizza and run for three weeks on national cable TV. The company has also bought a set of ads on national cable TV featuring another topic that will run for another three weeks.

The television ads are the centerpiece of an integrated campaign that features social media and radio. Papa Murphy’s featured a post on Jan. 11, the birthday of Edward Murphy, who is the engineer who came up with Murphy’s Law.

Yet the TV ads are also a test, of sorts, to see if a national campaign can work to build awareness of the concept and lift sales.

Papa Murphy’s struggles became acute in the fourth quarter — the chain recently said that its fourth quarter same-store sales fell 7.8 percent. The company’s stock, trading at nearly $13 per share last May, fell below $5 per share in October, and has stayed there ever since. 

The chain’s CEO, Ken Calwell, resigned just before the end of the year, replaced in the interim by chairman, Jean Birch. 

In October, after reporting a net loss in the third quarter, Papa Murphy’s amended its credit agreement in order to provide enough financial flexibility to run a national ad campaign.

“I would say that, with success, we would advertise increasingly more nationally,” Solano said.

“We have every reason to believe this is going to work,” he added. “But we want to see it working before we commit to doing more.” 

Papa Murphy’s is different from just about any other restaurant chain in that consumers cook the food themselves. This gives the company high quality scores on many consumer rankings. And, Solano said, it gives the chain a loyal customer base.

“We have the highest loyalty in the industry,” he said. “When consumers try it, they get it.”

The problem is getting consumers to the point where they get it, and that makes the awareness campaign particularly important. Solano said that Papa Murphy’s is the top pizza player in a number of markets, including Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis.

The chain hopes the ads will help build awareness in other markets where it has less of a presence. 

“Any time you’re going to build a brand, before you get trial, you have to build awareness,” Solano said. “This is an awareness campaign explaining what’s different about Papa Murphy’s. This is a different way to make pizza.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

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