Ken Calwell, previously Pizza Hut's marketing director-new products, says the cheese-stuffed concept came from the introduction of a "not-too-thick, not-too-thin" crust pie.
Known primarily for its pan pizza and thin-crust pizza, the PepsiCo unit had failed to capitalize on this middle-ground crust, which Mr. Calwell says accounts for about 40% of sales in the $20 billion pizza industry. Pizza Hut had experimented with it since 1986.
So it turned to Mr. Calwell, a 33-year-old executive who helped introduce such winners as the company's Veggie and Meat Lover's pizza-and the ill-fated Bigfoot.
There was little enthusiasm for the project, he notes, but that was before the R&D team came up with the novel idea of putting mozzarella cheese in the new crust.
"The cheese gave [consumers] a reason to try" it, says Mr. Calwell, now senior director-retail markets. "But it wasn't the hook."
Hitting the correct advertising strategy took time. The intitial test spots from BBDO Worldwide, New York, communicated too many attributes.
It took another trip to the drawing board before the "Eat it backwards" campaign, featuring celebrities such as Rush Limbaugh and Donald and Ivana Trump, was born.
The $50 million TV, print and direct-mail campaign paid off. Helped by a TV kickoff during the NCAA basketball championships, the advertising obtained 85% awareness, Mr. Calwell says.
From the '94 test to rollout, Stuffed Crust took just less than a year.
The product got so hot so fast, in fact, that Pizza Hut ran into trouble finding enough cheese
Not a bad problem for Mr. Calwell, an executive who earlier in his Pizza Hut career was working on five new products, "three of which were killed or put on hold."