CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Now a dropped call might not keep you from ordering that pizza. "The Hut," better known as Pizza Hut, launched a free iPhone application today that offers mobile ordering and games to play while you wait for that delivery. It's the first such application in the pizza category, where first-to-market bragging rights have become a big deal.
"Where you can get a person kind of into a habit or behavior, I think you have huge first-mover advantage," Pizza Hut chief marketer Brian Niccol said in a webcast this afternoon.
As a category, pizza is in a flat-out and sometimes cutthroat race to digital supremacy. The big three chains, Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's, hope to do about half of their business online. Papa John's was the first of the three big chains to offer online ordering. Pizza Hut expects to pass $1 billion in online sales in 2012.
As part of its digital effort, Pizza Hut also offers mobile, text and web-based ordering, as well as an ordering platform on Facebook, where it has nearly 1 million fans. It also hired a "twintern," whose sole responsibility is to tweet (Pizza Hut has about 14,000 followers). The chain has said it will adopt the name "The Hut" in some digital-marketing efforts, ostensibly for ease of text ordering. The change also underscores new variety in its menu offerings, which include pasta and wings.
Mr. Niccol said he believes there's a lot of overlap between iPhone and iPod Touch owners, of whom the chain said there are at least 30 million, and Pizza Hut's biggest customers: young men and young families. Assuming strong iPhone sales continue, that penetration is only expected to grow. As a result, Mr. Niccol said iPhone ordering may eventually account for a strong percentage of sales.
The iHut application has a couple of strong predecessors. Chipotle released an iPhone ordering platform in January, albeit for a much smaller system, and Kraft made waves with its paid iFood Assistant app, released in December, which offers consumers a variety of recipes and instructional videos. Hardee's also released an iPhone app this week that offers French pick-up lines and a coupon for the chain's French-dip sandwich but no ordering capabilities.
Pizza Hut enlisted IMC2, Dallas, and QuickOrder, Chicago, to create the application.