The Tricon Global Restaurants unit kicked off the first-ever ad campaign for its "Pizza Pooch & the Hut Mutts" promotion, a global kids' program that's ramped up in 50-plus foreign markets over the past nine months. Within a year the program should be in 90 markets.
Pizza Pooch leads a cartoon crew of dogs called "Hut Mutts," whose passion in life is eating Pizza Hut pizza. The crew -- which includes Pupperoni, Speedy and Topper -- spends most of its time retrieving stolen pizza from Evil Cat, its biggest enemy.
BBDO Mexico, Mexico City, created two 30-second commercials and two teasers -- part animated, part live-action. The spots, set in Pizza Hut restaurants, show children enjoying pizza in the company of adults who are oblivious to the animals' antics. Mexico was the first market to kick off the ads last month, with Australia, Brazil, Korea, Greece, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and several other Caribbean markets to follow soon.
Each country will customize the commercials to include the promotion of the month, such as Pizza Pooch toys, coloring books, special placemats, and, eventually, product giveaways such as customized skateboards, said Robert Turtledove, VP-marketing, Pizza Hut International. The U.S. is evaluating whether Pizza Pooch fits into its current marketing strategies, he said.
The Tricon unit works with BBDO in 70% of its markets -- including the U.S. Local agencies will do voice-overs to produce local language spots where applicable.
The Pizza Pooch program originated as a short-term promotion in the U.K. two years ago. Based on its success there, Pizza Hut International decided to expand the promotion worldwide because of the importance of the kids' market, Mr. Turtledove said.
"We have to build a franchise with kids now, because they take their habits with them to their teen years and adulthood," he said. "Pizza is kids' favorite food, so we're already one leg up on the competition in some places -- but there are markets that have never heard of pizza, and we need to reach them."
The program is now in many overseas markets, including several European countries, Latin America, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. It's aimed at kids ages 8 to 12, a younger group than Pizza Hut targets domestically.
"Even though there are 4,000 Pizza Huts in 90 countries, the brand is a little younger outside the U.S. so we're aiming for the early adoption stage," Mr. Turtledove said.
Tricon's business outside the U.S. has been the company's leading profit contributor lately -- the unit has posted eight straight quarters of 20% or better growth in operating profits. Tricon plans to open 750 new stores outside the U.S. this year, with non-U.S. profits expected to jump 18% to 20%.
Pizza Hut has been the strongest performer among Tricon's three brands (Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell are the others).
Mr. Turtledove said he anticipates many more markets will use the ads after he presents them to Pizza Hut International's country marketing managers in Singapore at the end of the month.
"They want to see them first, but based on everyone else's reactions, I know they'll want it," he said, noting the ads and promotion will run indefinitely. "We want to create a loyalty to the characters, not offer a proposition that has a six-month shelf life."