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Papa Johns Woos Gen Z With Help from a Superstar

The rollout in 20-plus worldwide markets required complex networking from the Papa Johns team, all with the goal of targeting younger customers.

Papa Johns announced that the Shaq-a-Roni is back for a fourth straight year—and this time, it’s going global, with the goal of appealing to Gen Z customers in 20 international markets.

The pizza, which is a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and 60 pieces of pepperoni, was first launched in 2020 as a special menu item. Since its inception, $1 of each Shaq-a-Roni pizza sold has been donated to the Papa Johns Foundation. Since 2020, the special pie has raised $9.6 million for nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

In previous years, the Shaq-a-Roni was sold in U.S. markets only. This year, Papa Johns says the pizza will be offered in 20-plus worldwide markets. Papa Johns said it’s “the largest number [of markets] to participate in an aligned global activation to date.”

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Andrew Lanzziano, director of Papa Johns international brand and marketing, is coordinating the effort to launch the Shaq-a-Roni internationally. It’s a big—no pun intended—undertaking, one that is aided by having one of the best-known sports personalities as the main attraction. Shaquille O’Neal—best known as “Shaq,” who has served as a Papa Johns spokesperson since 2019—is helping Lanzziano and company promote the worldwide rollout. Lanzziano said he feels prepared for the challenge due in part to his background.

“As a kid, I lived in Japan,” Lanzziano said. “I lived in Hawaii. My Dad was in the military, so I was a bit of a nomad. I’ve always appreciated learning about and connecting with different cultures. I was beyond excited to dig into consumers in each launch country.”

One of the focal points of Lanzziano’s outreach efforts was to make sure the Shaq-a-Roni rollout was tailored to each country’s sensibilities. That meant partnering with local organizations that understood how to engage  international consumers, especially younger ones. For example, Papa Johns coordinated with franchisees in each market to sign contracts with local branches of Junior Achievement Worldwide Global Changemakers and Second Harvest in Canada.

“We aim to be closer with the consumer than our competition,” Lanzziano said. “Globally, our core consumer is Gen Z, so we need to truly understand them, their motivations, habits, needs, wants, how they interact, embrace and even change culture. We need to understand how Papa Johns can organically and authentically be part of their life.”

Teams across Latin America, Asia and Europe signed on to be a part of the Shaq-a-Roni efforts, and even adapted their marketing locally when feasible. In Spanish-language countries, a core phrase for the campaign is, “¡Mucho más pepperoni!” to highlight the extra pepperoni.

In an campaign in China, where Shaq is especially popular, a prominent actress went back and forth with Shaq in Mandarin. Shaq even visited China to celebrate the country’s 300th Papa Johns opening and build hype for the Shaq-a-Roni launch.

Everywhere the campaign runs, Shaq’s personality and dedication to charitable works shines through.

“At the end of the day, when we’re doing the right thing globally–with this amazing charitable component and an iconic partner–it brings us all together,” Lanzziano said. “We have the opportunity to drive growth and good worldwide.”