Caesars' pizza patter doesn't really cut it

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Advertiser:Little Caesars Pizza
Agency: Bozell Worldwide, Southfield, Mich.
Ad Review rating: Two Stars

There's an old joke about a kvetching guest at a Catskills resort. Not only is the food terrible, he complains, but the portions are too small.

It's supposed to be ridiculous, but with such a consumer in mind the Little Caesars marketing strategy was born. If you can't sell your lousy pizza pie for $11, sell two lousy pizzas for $11. Pizza! Pizza! Value! Value!

However unpalatable. However unpalatable.

When the franchiser parted company with Cliff Freeman & Partners, after years of hilarious ads hammer- ing home the two-for-one offer, one reason cited was a desire for more product focus. But it's no wonder Freeman dwelled on the value instead of the pizza itself. Have you ever eaten Little Caesars pizza?

It tastes like wet flannel, minus the flavor.

Ah, but the portions! By accentuating the positive, "Pizza! Pizza!" turned a regional chain into a multinational colossus. But then sales started to dip, and the client--whose franchisees had complained about paying for Cliff Freeman's comedy act instead of the cheese-pulls and steaming-pie tabletop photography they wanted--put the account in review.

So now comes Bozell Worldwide, Southfield, Mich., with exactly the product-as-hero campaign the client desired.

At the center of every ad are two pizzas engaged in what the advertiser calls "clever banter" about their authentic 1959 recipe, quality ingredients, etc. Well, it is banter. But in comparison with the Budweiser Lizards, for example, it is not especially clever.

Indeed, the talking pizzas seem like cheesy imitations of Frank and Louie, right up to the New Yawk accent.

"Well, well. Look at you. You are one good looking pizza," says the first one.

"Me?" the other replies. "No, my friend, you are the good looking pizza."

The conversation is recorded via quick side-to-side camera moves--pizza pans, you might say--and the effect is less appetizing than dizzying.

"Please, don't be modest. Look at those toppings!"

"My toppings! Forget about it! Look at your toppings! Pepperoni, green pepper. Look, is that onion?"

"Yeah, I got a little onion."

"You're killin' me."

"Well look at you, Mr. Ham, Mr. Mushroom, Mr. Could You Possibly Put More Pepperoni on Me."

"Oh, stop it. Get in the bag."

A second spot has the two pizzas watching "home movies"-- i.e., a training film for store employees showing how pizzas are made. The dialogue is more charming and witty in that one ("Oh, look at that little ball of dough. Is that you?" "You've got a very good eye. That is me."), but still not exactly laugh-out-loud delightful.

Which is to say: not like the old stuff.

The ads do make the pizzas look tempting, and they may indeed generate some more traffic. On the other hand, you know the old saw: There's nothing that kills a bad product faster than good advertising. Now that Little Caesars has opened the quality issue, it had better be prepared to deal with the consequences if the reality in the box doesn't match the pictures on the tube.

In one print ad, one of the pizzas asks, "With all these toppings, how can anyone resist me?"

Never mind the tortured syntax. The answer is, people can resist the toppings because they've been acquainted with the bottomings.

Perhaps that's why the announcer still chimes in with an indisputable promise: Two pizzas for $11.

Copyright September 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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