Pizza Hut uses events to help give away 1 mil new pies

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Pizza Hut has given its "totally new pizzas" to roughly one of every 100 U.S. households, dishing out the pies via vehicles ranging from a helicopter to a Hummer.

The nation's No. 1 pizza chain pitted its regional marketing managers against one another to dream up the most creative methods for distributing 1 million of the reformulated pizzas nationwide.

The sampling effort accompanied a massive TV campaign from BBDO Worldwide, New York, starring President-CEO David Novak.

"We believe sampling is critical to driving trial and getting people who may have walked away from our franchise," said a Pizza Hut spokesman.

Pizza Hut's seven regions organized their own special events and gained access to high-profile festivities, from the Kentucky Derby to the 35th anniversary of Seattle's Space Needle. Field staff handed out hot, whole pizzas or coupons for free pies.

SAMPLING GENERATES TRIAL

The sampling definitely is generating trial, Pizza Hut's regional marketing managers agree.

In markets where coupons were distributed, nearby restaurants saw an instant spike in traffic, said several marketing managers. Debbie Mercer, restaurant marketing coach for 800 Pizza Huts in the Western states, said May traffic was up an average 5% from a year ago in her region.

Pizza Hut placed high priority on local media coverage of its events. Through TLPartnership, Dallas, Pizza Hut negotiated with radio stations in each market to forgo its traditional radio spots in May in favor of more promotional coverage: Stations gave away Pizza Hut coupons during call-in contests and held live coverage of sampling events.

The Northwest territory managed to garner 15 minutes of coverage of the new pizzas by inviting the anchor of a local TV morning program to a red-roof restaurant for a pizzamaking session. The anchor then hopped on the station's traffic helicopter and delivered a stack of pizzas to her co-workers.

The Northeast territory sent a Pizza Hut-theme Hummer Su-preme out on the road to sports events and even a taping of "Late Show With David Letterman." Nearby restaurants saw at least 25 coupon redemptions per store on the day of the event, said Derek Correia, director of restaurant marketing for the Northeast. Good Stuff Promotions, Merrimack, N.Y., coordinated the Hummer tour.

JOINING HIGHWAY PATROL

In Florida and Dallas, Pizza Hut took to the highways to pass out the pizzas. Over Memorial Day weekend, Pizza Hut teamed up with the Florida Highway Patrol, giving out coupons to cars that passed roadside safety inspections.

In Dallas, Pizza Hut and Gannett Co. radio station KISS-FM set up shop in a parking lot next to a tollway exit ramp, giving away pizzas and 500 pairs of tickets to a rock concert.

The event, promoted on radio and electronic boards dotting the highway, attracted about 4,000 people in one day. Pizza Hut cooked more than 400 pizzas in a trailer and handed out coupons for another 1,500, said Julie Key, restaurant marketing specialist in Dallas for the Southern states.

"We got a lot of awareness, a lot of people exposed," Ms. Key said.

Copyright June 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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