Pizza Hut Appeals Ad Case to Supreme Court

A feud between two big pizza chains over television commercials could be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pizza Hut this week asked the high court to overturn a lower court’s ruling and stop competitor Papa John’s International Inc. from using the slogan, “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza,” which Pizza Hut says isn’t true.

Dallas-based Pizza Hut, the nation’s largest pizza chain, says it has waged a two-year battle against Papa John’s to uphold truth-in-advertising.

Papa John’s calls the whole spat ridiculous.

“The American public doesn’t need the Supreme Court to tell them which pizza they like better,” said Papa John’s spokeswoman Karen Sherman.

Who’s Got the ‘Best Stuff’? The case might seem like small potatoes to the justices, who only last week issued a ruling that ensured George W. Bush’s election as president. But in the pizza business, this is an extra large with all the toppings.

Pizza Hut, the nation’s largest pizza chain, sued No. 3 Papa John’s in 1998 about the slogan and some commercials that suggested Papa John’s used better stuff in its pies.

A jury sided mostly with Pizza Hut, and a federal magistrate ordered Papa John’s to stop using the slogan and never again compare its product to Pizza Hut’s.

But in September, three judges in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, ruling that the Papa John’s slogan is puffery — an exaggerated advertising claim that didn’t deceive consumers by itself.

Robert Millen, Pizza Hut general counsel, said the appellate judges twisted federal false-advertising laws. He said Papa John’s own research, admitted during the trial, showed the ads convinced consumers that Papa John’s made better pies — meaning the ads weren’t just puffery.

“This is about our ability to prevent our brand from being falsely disparaged by Papa John’s or any other competitor,” Millen said.

Truth in Advertising at Question Millen suggested that state and federal regulators might enter the case on Pizza Hut’s side to protect truth-in-advertising laws, although none have done so. In its petition filed last Monday with the Supreme Court, Pizza Hut said truthful advertising is increasingly important to the national economy.

Sherman said Papa John’s truly believes it makes a better pizza, and she said the company’s slogan was no more deceptive than Pizza Hut’s: “The Best Pizzas Under One Roof.”

Before Pizza Hut filed its appeal with the Supreme Court, chief executive Mike Rawlings made one last phone call to Papa John’s chief executive John Schnatter to seek a settlement. Schnatter refused to drop the “Better Ingredients” slogan — Papa John’s has spent $300 million putting it in ads and on pizza boxes — and the negotiations ended, both sides said.

Pizza Hut’s parent company, Tricon Global Restaurants, and Papa John’s are both based in Louisville, Ky.

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