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Pizza rivalry has all the ingredients of a good lawsuit

October 28, 1999

For as much as business howls about arcane government restrictions that cramp its profits, it seems frequently that business itself is as much of an enemy to business as government.

I'm speaking specifically here of Pizza Hut's decision to take Papa John's to court over the latter's advertising slogan, "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza."

I think I'm like most consumers. If a pizza company advertises "better ingredients," I simply assume that they've upgraded their sausage from rat- to mouse-based. Someone with a palate educated in the nuances in rodent meat may care, but it all tastes pretty good to me, so I'm not going to use this ad as a basis to change brands.

But Pizza Hut sees something far more sinister.

It says Papa John's "better ingredients" advertisement implies that it uses fresh tomato sauce, while other companies used canned. In fact, Papa John's uses canned sauce too, hence the deceiving advertisement charge, and the corresponding lawsuit.

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Somewhere in this country I am sure there are retired CIA agents who spend their time breaking down televised pizza advertisements for implied meanings and subliminal, ingeniously encrypted consumer siren songs and choose their restaurants accordingly, but I am confident the majority of habitual TV watchers - a notoriously unimaginative group to begin with - put enough thought into it to be plausibly duped.

Papa John's further contends that it's "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza" slogan isn't substantially different from Pizza Hut's own "The Best Pizza Under One Roof."

But now that Pizza Hut has taught us that there is a far deeper meaning in advertisements than meets the mute button, are we to conclude that Pizza Hut is trying to tell us that it really has the best pizza - or that Papa John's makes its pizza outdoors? One roof? This could be an allusion to the virtues of the nuclear family, preferably a pizza-eating nuclear family. Or it could be statement against urban sprawl. Who knows?

But unless Papa John's starts advertising "Better Ingredients, More Topless Delivery Chicks," I don't think Pizza Hut should feel threatened enough to tie up our federal court system.

That should free up enough time for Pizza Hut to get back to its advertisements-on-rocketships campaign, which tickles me more than I can say. NASA is all too happy to sell Pizza Hut ad space on the side of its spaceships, even though it's a little confusing what audience the company is trying to reach. Attention, aliens: Delivery in 3.5 million light years, or your pizza's free.

But remember when we used to affix a message of peace and goodwill to our space vehicles, should they ever be chanced upon by beings from another world? In a way, a corporate logo is a more accurate portrayal of what we're all about, but my chief concern is history. What if one of these ships is indeed intercepted by intelligent life? I'm afraid they'll jump to the wrong conclusions, and on their intergalactic space maps the inner four planets of our solar system will forever and ever become known as Mars, Venus, Mercury and Pizza Hut.

It all might not matter if real estate baron and Pizza Hut spokesman Donald Trump is elected president under the Reform Party. Not to be outdone, I'm expecting Pizza Hut's rival to change its name to Papa John Adams and field a candidate of its own, running a series of ads suggesting that Trump is using canned speeches.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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