If you like pizza, you’ll know the name Papa John’s. As the fourth largest pizza delivery restaurant chain in the United States, it’s been keeping us supplied with cheesy goodness for over 36 years. Not to say it’s been smooth sailing all the way – over the past couple of years, the chain has become almost as well known for courting controversy as it is for delivering margaritas. But court cases and scandals aside, Papa John’s is still one of the biggest names in the industry. And you don’t get to become that without a very good marketing strategy and an equally strong brand identity. Fortunately enough for Papa John’s, it has both in spades. At the heart of its image, of course, is its iconic logo. Big, brash, loud, and proud, the Papa John’s logo has remained almost unchanged for the best part of four decades. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the story behind that famous red and green image, prepare to find out as we take a look at the history and story behind the Papa John’s logo.
The History of Papa John’s
Before we get too caught up in uncovering the secrets of the Papa John’s logo, it’s worth taking a moment to find out a little more about the company itself. After all, when you’re dealing with a logo that’s as intricately intertwined with the brand image as Papa John’s is, you’re going to have to understand the brand if you stand any chance of understanding the logo.
As logorealm.com explains, the story of Papa John’s can be traced to a broom closet at the back of Mick’s Lounge, a tavern run by “Papa” John Schnatter’s father. After converting the closet into something more customer-friendly and using the profits from selling his 1971 Camaro Z28 to buy a load of pizza equipment, Schnatter began hawking pizzas to his dad’s customers. Soon enough, the business had grown enough to warrant its own premises. The same year he moved out of the closet, Schnatter came up with the bright idea of inventing a dipping sauce for pizza. From there, the only way was up.
In 1993, Papa John’s went public. By the following year, it had 500 stores. 3 years later, it had 1500. Fast forward to today, and Papa John’s now has over 4700 locations spread across the globe and a reported revenue of $1.619 billion. Schnatter’s associations with the brand may have ended in ignominy (word of advice to founding chairmen – don’t use racial slurs during conference calls) but he did at least give us some very good pizzas.
Papa John’s Logo
If you want to know what the original Papa John’s logo looked like, just cast your eye in the direction of the current emblem. Unlike some brands that see each new year as an opportunity for a makeover, Papa John’s has stuck slavishly to their original creation for the past 36 years. Sure, there have been some minor changes along the way, and there was an almost disastrous about-turn in 2018, but by and large, the logo you see today is very much the same logo that first hit the billboards in 1984. And why not? It works. It may not be the most elegant or stylish logo in the world, but let’s be honest, Papa John’s isn’t about elegance or style, it’s about pizza. And cheesy deliciousness doesn’t have to be stylish or elegant to sell. When it comes to fast-food chains, the bigger, the brighter, and the more instantly recognizable a logo, the better. Considering Papa John’s is all three, it stands to reason it hasn’t messed around with it too much. Which isn’t to say it’s not made some very, very subtle changes along the way…
1984 was the year we were introduced to Papa John’s dipping sauce and a very statement-making logo. As 1000logos.net writes, the original Papa John’s logo consisted of a red and white banner with an arching top and a black wordmark on a white background. Very quickly, the inscription was upgraded to a very fetching red. At the same time, a distinct green outline was adopted.
And thus it remained until 1995 when the marketing execs at team Papa John’s decided it was time for a change. Not much of a change, and not one that many people even noticed. But the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted an extra dash of refinement to the contours and a new sleekness to the lines. The font of the bold red lettering was upgraded to a solid serf typeface and treated to a hint of a green shadow. The ‘Pizza’ part of the inscription, meanwhile, was elevated to new levels of glory thanks to its stylish ribbon backdrop.
2018 was the year things got a little shaky for the logo… and for the brand. When ‘Papa’ Schnatter was heard using less than respectable language on a conference call, things got ugly at HQ. Schnatter stepped down as Chairman, numerous companies cut ties with the brand, and a lot of people suddenly lost their appetite for pizza – at least of the kind Papa John’s were selling. In a bit to restore their battered image, Papa John’s decided it was time for a complete overhaul of the logo. As money.cnn.com notes, the diagonally orientated white logotype on a rectangular red and green banner was new, novel, and not necessarily appreciated. Neither was the fact that the apostrophe at the end of ‘John’s’ had suddenly gone AWOL. Despite some quarters praising the new logo as more streamlined and more contemporary than the previous one, most people were more than happy when just a year later, Papa John’s decided to abandon it and return to something remarkably like its original logo. And when we say remarkably alike, we mean it. The colors might be a little deeper and brighter and the lines may be a little more refined, but in its essence, the 2020 Papa John’s logo is the spitting image of the 1984 original.
No one is going to claim Papa John’s logo is the most visually stunning, artistically interesting, or conceptually innovative logo in the world. But that’s okay – they don’t have to. Papa John’s logo may have the subtlety of a ten-ton truck and the elegance of a pig in a tutu, but anyone who thinks either of those is a bad thing is missing the point. If you like pizza, you know the name Papa John’s. And if you like Papa John’s, you’ll know the logo. It’s as much a part of the brand as tomatoes and cheese; as linked to its image as fresh ingredients and controversy. In short, Papa John’s is its logo, and its logo is Papa John’s.