Pizza Hut Appeals Ad Case to Supreme Court

ByDavid Koenig

D A L L A S, Dec. 23, 2000 -- A feud between two big pizza chains overtelevision commercials could be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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

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

Papa John’s calls the whole spat ridiculous.

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

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

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

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

But in September, three judges in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court ofAppeals overturned the verdict, ruling that the Papa John’s sloganis puffery — an exaggerated advertising claim that didn’t deceiveconsumers by itself.

Robert Millen, Pizza Hut general counsel, said the appellatejudges twisted federal false-advertising laws. He said Papa John’sown research, admitted during the trial, showed the ads convincedconsumers that Papa John’s made better pies — meaning the adsweren’t just puffery.

“This is about our ability to prevent our brand from beingfalsely disparaged by Papa John’s or any other competitor,” Millensaid.

Truth in Advertising at QuestionMillen suggested that state and federal regulators might enterthe case on Pizza Hut’s side to protect truth-in-advertising laws,although none have done so. In its petition filed last Monday with theSupreme Court, Pizza Hut said truthful advertising is increasinglyimportant 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 PizzaHut’s: “The Best Pizzas Under One Roof.”

Before Pizza Hut filed its appeal with the Supreme Court, chiefexecutive Mike Rawlings made one last phone call to Papa John’schief executive John Schnatter to seek a settlement. Schnatterrefused 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, andPapa John’s are both based in Louisville, Ky.

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