Papa Johns has a new promotion: free pizzas to “every American” (with some small print) if Sunday’s Super Bowl goes into overtime.  Any thought as to why?

Well, their head of Marketing says it’s because they’d rather give away millions of pizzas than spend three million dollars for a 30 second commercial – but that’s less than a complete answer. The fact is potential recipients must register online to be eligible and the national chain is likely to grow its email data base by tens of millions.   Then with a monster data base that cost them next to nothing to generate, they will be able to direct market on a personal basis to millions of Americans for next to nothing.

Who benefits? Well, certainly all those who register in the unlikely event the game goes into overtime (it never has) but the biggest winner has to be the Papa Johns chain. They have already generated millions of dollars in free advertising with news coverage of their promotion, and their local franchisees who certainly are getting their money’s worth given the franchises’ marketing fee.

If you remember, Denny’s started this a number of big bowls back when they announced Grand Slam breakfasts were on the house the next morning.  Local papers had pictures of the long lines, all four of the national networks had the story on their evening news the next day and a sheepish Denny’s CEO told a USA Today reporter they’d garnered 50 million dollars in free publicity before the day was done, never mind all the first time customers, the folks who hadn’t been to Denny’s for a long while and, by the way, the margin on the drinks folks ordered with those breakfasts almost paid the cost of the meal.

SEO guru Brad Fallon said it best more than three years ago when he told my CEO groups, “If you give it away, you can sell a lot more.”  That proved the case for Denny’s, but now Papa Johns has one upped the competition. PJ’s is now able to sell a lot more (as a result of their huge new data base) to a lot more without having to give anything away …  in fact, by doing no more than holding a news conference.

And think of all publicity they’ll get if the game does go into overtime.  I don’t know who will win the football game, but the winner of the Marketing competition is clear.