Pizza Hut Backs Out of Presidential Debate Stunt, Shifts Campaign Online

Move Comes in the Wake of Media Backlash

By Published on .

Alas, we may never find out whether Barack Obama and Mitt Romney prefer sausage or pepperoni on their pizzas.

Just days after Pizza Hut announced its 'Pizza Party' stunt-- which offered a lifetime of free pizza to any attendee at next week's presidential debate who had the gumption to ask either candidate what pie topping they preferred -- it is now backtracking.

In a bit of not-so-subtle maneuvering, Pizza Hut has announced that it is moving the toppings question online and open it up to the public. A random voter will win the lifetime pie supply.

Pizza Hut CMO Kurt Kane in a statement said that the "buzz" around the question -- tens of hundreds of media outlets picked up the story -- proved that the debate was important. "We're no longer asking a few hundred attendees at the town hall presidential debate on Oct. 16 to pose the question, rather we're bringing the question -- sausage or pepperoni? -- to millions of Americans," he said.

What preceded that move was the brand being hit by an onslaught of backlash once the campaign, which was created by Pizza Hut's PR agency, Edelman's Zeno, was announced this week.

Gawker called it a "mockery of the American democratic system," while Slate's Andrew McCarthy wrote a scathing criticism of the campaign, saying that between this and Big Bird, the whole race appeared to be "devolving into some sort of bizarre episode of 'The Bachelor.'"

Per usual, Stephen Colbert added the most hilarity to the topic, saying on his Comedy Central show that Pizza Hut's promise to one lucky winner of a pizza each week for life --which per the contract rules equals up to 30 years -- could also be interpreted as: "If you eat one of their pizzas every week, you will die in 30 years."

The Associated Press, meanwhile, took a more serious stance. The outlet asked if the stunt could actually ruin the debate entirely, and threaten to anger viewers who expect the proceedings to revolve around more pertinent matters like health care and the economy.

In short, there was an overwhelmingly negative reaction to the stunt, but at the same time, Pizza Hut managed to garner a wealth of press in the span of a few days.

Asked to comment about whether the change in program was sparked by all the negative press, a spokesman for Pizza Hut's parent Yum Brands said the "latest announcement is the natural progression of the campaign, given the amount of attention it has received. We now have the opportunity to open up the debate to a broader audience online and increase the number of people able to win the free pizza for life."

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