In-Your-Face Ads Are Surprisingly Effective

By Published on .

Advertiser: Pizza Hut
Agency: Weiden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
Star Rating: 3.0

When earthquakes kill thousands, my faith in God is shaken. When presidents turn to burglary, my faith in government is shaken. When priests molest children, my faith in the clergy is shaken. When terrorists slip through gaping cracks, my faith in the FBI is shaken. When viewers tune in to Bill O'Reilly, my faith in humanity is shaken.

All that I can handle. But when the loud and idiotic Jason Alexander campaign for KFC corresponds with increased sales for the advertiser, my faith in me is shaken.

That I cannot handle.

(Look, I know what the headline says, and I see the photo, too. I'll get to Pizza Hut in a minute. Can't you see Iím in crisis here?)

Since the "It's Not Fast Food. It's KFC" spots from BBDO, New York, broke, same-store sales have increased and consumer loyalty, according to one survey, has jumped dramatically. Meanwhile, sales have also grown at Taco Bell in the wake of the equally bizarre Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, campaign that trots out one stupid commercial after another built around the admittedly ingenious theme line "Think Outside the Bun."

Why are these Yum Brands brands growing? Why?

It could be that they both have solid positioning. In fact, they have the same positioning: take a break from fast-food burgers. It could be that their performance a year ago was so woeful -- both way down in same-store sales -- that any new message was bound to improve the status quo. It could be that their operations, quality of ingredients and menu variety have dramatically improved under new top managers.

It could be that McDonald's is foundering, and a sinking ship raises the water level for everybody else.

Or, it could be ... jeez, somebody get me a glass of water; I'm a little light-headed here -- that I was wrong.

No admissions just yet. A concession would be premature, but just bear the foregoing in mind as I evaluate the latest work from a Yum Brands brand, this one Pizza Hut, for its Insider pizza.

Yum gave this assignment not to Pizza Hut's agency of record, BBDO, but to Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., making a lot of people at Omnicom very nervous about the immediate future. They probably should be nervous. Pizza Hut is in a bad way -- for reasons that have little to do with advertising. (Its problems can be summarized in one question: Why would you go to Pizza Hut?)

Anyway, Wieden, in the catbird seat, has done pretty well. Never mind that the new campaign steals nakedly from "Where's the beef?" The catchphrase in the dialogue is "Where's the cheese at?" but why shouldn't it be? Besides, the spots have a rare and fabulous jingle. Remember jingles? Of course you do, because jingles are memorable and, I hope, poised for a comeback.

Meantime, the spots still manage to follow Yum's food-shots-pressed-up-to-the-viewers'-eyeballs protocols.

The result is to make the Insider pizza, which has most of its six cheeses baked inside, look novel and reasonably appetizing. Whether that's sufficient to make anybody schlep to a Pizza Hut to sit in a relic of '70s architecture to wait for a product anybody else will deliver to the front door -- well, that's the question. I would say no.

So I suppose the answer is yes.

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