Leveling Up Papa John’s at QuakeCon

August 27, 2019 | blog | By Ken Lowery

After several years of success with sports activation for Papa John’s of North-Central Texas, we started hunting for the next audience. We had a hunch about gamers, and existing research told us what we suspected: contrary to stereotype, gamers mostly aren’t teenage boys. By far the largest group of gamers are in their mid 30s, split evenly between men and women, and more likely than not to be married with children. In short, gamers are Middle America, but their hobby still carried such a stigma that few brands tried to talk to them at that level.

In fact, how to talk to gamers was our number one challenge. Gamers are sensitive to pandering, so if we wanted to step into their space, we had to be authentic. We happen to be gamers ourselves, so we knew we couldn’t just throw money at esports and E3 and call it a day. We had to show up in the places gamers gathered with lots of love and little visibility.

Luckily, QuakeCon was right in our backyard.

First, a little backstory.

The first QuakeCon was held in 1996 in Garland, Texas and has since grown to become the largest LAN party in the world – while evolving from enthusiastic fan gathering to ZeniMax Media’s official convention for promoting games by Dallas-based id Software, creators of Quake, Doom and Wolfenstein. The convention is free to attend and upwards of 12,000 people do just that every year.

Incredibly, QuakeCon has never had a food sponsor in 23 years of operation. If attendees want to eat, they either had to pay for overpriced hotel food (which quickly sells out) or hit up the equally overpriced food trucks outside. Either method requires going through metal detectors and wands, a process that convention attendees vocally dislike.

The opportunity to win hearts and minds (and fill a few thousand stomachs) couldn’t be missed.

A challenger brand approaches.

Our purpose was simple: announce Papa John’s presence to gamers of all kinds, from the hardcore LAN party attendees to the families of casual gamers looking for a fun and inexpensive weekend out together.

The first step was to sign on as the official sponsors of the Master Pancake screening on Friday night of the show, the single biggest social event of QuakeCon. Master Pancake is a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style show where the hosts riff on a bad movie for a live audience, and hundreds of people were in attendance. While bars serving drinks kept pre-show spirits high, our Papa John’s promotional video played on loop on both screens.

On the show floor, we set up a custom booth and backdrop to announce our presence. We even added a little bit of extra interest for attendees: every purchase would grant them entries into our raffle to win gaming mousepads, streaming decks for aspiring Twitch stars, and even an HP OMEN X gaming rig.

And to stay connected, we set up an account in QuakeCon’s official Discord. There we traded quips with attendees, answered questions about the raffle, and let people know when fresh batches of pizza had been delivered.

Having a clear, approachable voice kept Papa John’s in the mix during QuakeCon’s 24-hour meta-conversation.

What we expected and what we didn’t.

We expected good sales. We did not expect that we’d need to expand booth hours to sell pizzas for 14 hours a day. We expected people to be happy to see us. We did not expect them to yell “f*** yeah, Papa John’s!” every time they walked by. We expected to sell many individual slices of pizza. We did not expect to sell almost 4,000 ENTIRE pizzas. We expected to see a diverse array of people. But we were still glad to see the range of attendees validate our research – men and women, children and grandparents, every bit as conservative and every bit as wild as you could imagine. We knew that when we were talking to “gamers” we were talking to a slice of everyone, and now Papa John’s own operations team could see that, too.

Hearts and minds.

The total spend for the convention – placement, raffle prizes, booth fabrication, and everything else – was just over $30k. Total pizza sales for the convention were almost $50k. Via the raffle, we also collected nearly 2,000 email addresses with over 17,000 raffle entries. Some attendees, covetous of the HP OMEN X and working out the math, decided to buy a pizza’s worth of slices instead of a whole pizza for the reduced rate … just so they’d get more entries. It wasn’t about the money for them; it was about love of the game.

And that’s what it was for Papa John’s, too. We’re glad the QuakeCon experience more than paid for itself, but short-term profit was always the secondary goal. We wanted to announce our presence to the audience, and the positive sentiment we experienced was overwhelming. People shouted profane happiness at us, sure; others posed with Papa John’s workers for photos and one musician even serenaded us on acoustic guitar. Positive chatter about Papa John’s continued in the Discord for days after the show ended, entirely independent of us – we just sat and read what they had to say.

We wanted to tell the attendees of QuakeCon we see you, we know what you love, and we love it too, and they heard us. And most of all we got to have fun – the agency, the brand, and everyone who came to see us. There were a lot of ways to measure success for Papa John’s first true outing into the gaming world. But that’s the one that matters to us most.

KEN LOWERY is Senior Digital Copywriter at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Ken Lowery

at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.