In his best-selling book, Conversations with God, Book 2, author Neale Donald Walsch says God told him most of the world's problems would be solved if we adopted the concept of visibility. I'm not from the Pacific Northwest, but I think what God means is it would save a lot of trouble if everyone's cards were on the table. No more bluffing, no more half-truths. A losing proposition if you're in the advertising business.
Or is it? It seems to me it could save some companies a lot of headaches and legal bills.
Take the current war between Pizza Hut and Papa John's. Pizza Hut is the largest pizza franchiser in the nation, and Papa John's is the fastest-growing (currently ranked fourth). At the center of their fight is Papa John's "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza" marketing campaign.
If you sit back with a beer -- make that a six-pack -- and pretend you're David Kendall, you may begin asking questions like "What does 'better' mean?" and "Better than whom?" I don't know if the Pizza Hut guys drink beer, but they figured the campaign was aimed at them and it was their duty to set the record straight.
Particularly annoying were commercials bragging about Papa John's "fresh-packed, vine-ripened tomatoes." Pizza Hut argued these commercials left viewers with the impression that Papa John's tomatoes were delivered to and processed in the individual stores.
"Aha!," Pizza Hut says. "We win in the sauce category because ours is on the shelf for no more than 12!"
Papa John's retorts that while their sauce may be on the shelf a bit longer, they have the decency to wait until it gets to the store before adding spices. "Granted." says Pizza Hut, "we add spices at the processing plant. But that's because, when mixed together, spices and sauce taste better over time."
One spokesperson told me it's like when you were a kid and your mom put leftover spaghetti in the fridge and you ate it the next day. It tasted better. I told him my mom died when I was 3.
I didn't really tell him that, but grab another beer, because the argument over better gets worse. Papa John's used to claim their dough was made fresh daily. In response, Pizza Hut was quick to point out that while it's made fresh daily, it's used up to six days later. "Well, er ... of course," says Papa John's. "That's because our dough is aged, yeah -- you know, like a fine wine."
An incredulous Pizza Hut spokesperson told me he'd never heard of dough tasting better after it's been aged -- in the same conversation when he told me that tomato sauce does.
Unhappy with the results of arbitration, Pizza Hut has slapped Papa John's with a $12.5 million lawsuit. Papa John's slapped back with commercials showing Pizza Hut's co-founder, Frank Carney, born again as a Papa John's franchisee. Hmmm. All this over a food baked on a conveyor belt and served in a cardboard box. Maybe Papa John's should file a countersuit charging that Pizza Hut is not really a hut. Pizza Hut could point out that Papa John H. Schnatter is no Italian. Really though, wouldn't it be better if both companies had adopted the concept of visibility from the beginning? Thanks to Walsch, we know that's what God would say.
Either way, we are still left with the nagging question as to which pizza God would prefer. To settle the debate, I had my own conversation with God: Jeffrey L. God of Chattanooga, Tenn. He told me over the phone, in an unaccented and surprisingly mild-mannered voice, that he prefers Papa John's. But what would really be better, he said, is a more substantial meal of roast beef and potatoes, Well, I'm a simple man so, if Mr. God said it, I believe it. And that settles it for me.