Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and current GOP primary frontrunner, is running a campaign focused almost entirely on his business savvy. And he’s brought national attention to the Godfather’s brand, which has received nonstop coverage from every major news outlet (CBS, The Washington Post, Politico, to name just a few). But while Cain is successfully selling himself and his “9-9-9” “9-0-9” tax plan, it appears there’s one thing he’s not selling very well on the campaign trail: pizza.
As strong as he is in poll results, his popularity in terms of pizza pie is as limp as last week’s deep dish. In a slew of calls made to Godfather’s franchises across the country, it seems Cain’s celebrity has failed to stimulate sales of Sicilian or pepperoni slices. (Perhaps it’s the mixed reviews?)
If Cain’s popularity can’t even sell significantly more pizzas, can he really claim a mandate?
Said one branch manager at a Montana location when asked about Herman Cain, “Honestly, I have no idea who that is.” Nearly all the franchises reached reported having no uptick in sales or foot traffic. At a branch in Waterloo, Iowa, a manager said, “We’ve actually been a little slower for some reason–I don’t know why.” Outlets from Topeka, Kansas, and Chesterton, Indiana, to Omaha, Nebraska, and Houston, Texas, to Forest Grove, Oregon, and Savannah, Georgia, reported no change in business due to Cain’s newfound stature.
Still, most franchises indicated Cain had caused a buzz among customers, even if he didn’t help to spike sales. “I had one guy passing through who was staying at a nearby hotel,” recalls one franchise manager. “He said he’d heard so much about Herman Cain, but never had his pizza. So when he saw Godfather’s, he just had to come try it.”
Other franchises are smartly taking advantage of the opportunity. Jake Baker, director of operations for a handful of Godfather’s outlets throughout Illinois, says he’s received lots of questions about Cain since his rise to the national stage. “One gentleman came in and actually asked if Herman Cain ran this place,” Baker says with a chuckle. “We’ve maybe seen a little [uptick in sales], but nothing tremendous. We’re very pleased he’s running for president–we think it’s a great thing, and we’re actually running a ‘9-9-9’ special right now.” Most locations reached hadn’t launched a similar deal. “We have a ‘9-9-9 deal.’ It’s one of our deals that’s always been there,” says one branch manager from Indiana who was not familiar with Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. “It’s the cheesy-pepperoni pizza for $9.99.” (Another manager, asked whether his outlet was running a special based on what was then Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, simply said, “What’s that?”)
Just one owner reached had seen a significant boost in pizza sales. From his franchise in Florence, Alabama, which he’s owned for more than two decades, self-described “owner, manager, and bottle washer” Mark Woods says he’s seen an uptick in foot traffic, as well as a demographic shift. “Honestly, I think I’ve seen more black people come in here because of Herman,” Woods says. “I have not seen a decrease against last year. Last year, I was down from the previous year. And this year, I’m in the single-digital positives. I don’t know if that has anything to do with Herman [though].” (Woods adds that he met Cain when he was CEO of Godfather’s. “You better not mess around and say I said anything bad about Herman,” he laughs. “Personally I like Herman, and I think he’ll be good wherever he is.”)
Godfather’s Pizza declined to participate in this story. The company would only provide a statement, which indicated the company does not disclose any sales figures. “Godfather’s Pizza takes no position on political candidates, but we do make great pizza,” the statement also said.
Elections have winners and losers, but it’s unclear on which side of that spectrum Godfather’s (or Cain) will land. For most candidates and their brands, losing is rarely a bad thing. Mike Huckabee used his strong showing in the last presidential primary to score his own show on Fox. Sarah Palin’s buzz sparked huge sales of her books and even a reality TV series. And don’t forget about Donald Trump, whose rumored run for office ate up a month’s worth of news cycles and drove ratings on Celebrity Apprentice. This year’s election is no different, with every candidate from Michele Bachmann to Newt Gingrich trying to bolster their brands on the national stage–and sell everything from autobiographies to fiction novels to documentary films.
But while Cain is certainly selling (and buying) copies of his own book, no one will officially say his marketing success and rising poll numbers have had broad-reaching impact on Godfather’s pizza sales, though the company’s brand awareness has undoubtedly risen. It’s an issue that speaks to the true extent of Cain’s brand: Is he a long-term powerhouse candidate or merely a flash in the pan? That question helped inspire recent dueling stories from both The New York Times and Politico, with John McEnroe-esque headlines questioning whether Cain is a serious candidate.
Says Baker, the operations director of many of Godfather’s Illinois franchises, with another chuckle, “I think customers are just very intrigued by the fact that a pizza mogul can run for president of the United States.”
[Image: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]