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It's quite a departure from past campaigns. Take, for example, one from the summer of 2016, when Schnatter's usual red Papa John's shirt was replaced with a "Ghostbusters" jumpsuit in a 30-second TV spot and on a movie-themed pizza box.

In its 2017 annual filing, Papa John's said, "We depend on the continued availability of his image and his services as spokesman in our advertising and promotion materials."

Papa John's has a license agreement with Schnatter "related to the use of certain intellectual property related to his name, likeness and image, our business and brand may be harmed if Mr. Schnatter's services were not available to the Company or the reputation of Mr. Schnatter were negatively impacted, including by social media or otherwise," it said in 2017 annual filing.

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