Pizza Hut's brand leader: 'We're proud but dissatisfied'
Pizza Hut is giving itself a bit of a makeover based on its 61-year heritage, including the comeback of its red-roof logo and even the Tiffany-style lamps, as it tries to reconnect with past patrons and entice new ones.
“We needed to be more confident, we needed to have a little bolder presence, not be so apologetic, take more chances, be a little bit riskier,” Chief Brand Officer Marianne Radley says on Ad Age’s Marketer’s Brief podcast.
Pizza Hut is the second-largest U.S. pizza chain, after losing the top spot to Domino’s in 2017.
“We’re proud but dissatisfied,” Radley says about Pizza Hut, which she joined in February 2018.
Since then, she’s been working on giving Pizza Hut a more distinct message in the crowded pizza industry and is trying to make it more culturally relevant, particularly with younger customers. There are older ones who have a nostalgic feel for the brand, she says, but younger people didn’t have that interaction with the brand.
And Radley speaks from experience about Pizza Hut's earlier years. On the podcast, she shares details about the time she spent at Pizza Hut when she was a teenager, rolling silverware for her two older sisters who had jobs at the restaurant and later getting her own job there at 16, first as a dishwasher, then as a hostess. Once she turned 18 and was old enough to be a waitress at the restaurant (she had to be old enough to serve beer), that was her next role. “I loved that job,” says Radley.
That experience helps Radley understand what Pizza Hut staffers are going through at the store level and the importance of customer service. “I was so excited to come back to Pizza Hut because it was such a firm foundation for me,” she says.
The brand hired a new agency, GSD&M, rolled out marketing showcasing Pizza Hut as the official pizza of the NFL, and ran campaigns to mark the return of the P’Zone as well as an updated pan pizza recipe earlier this year—and now, for cheesy bites pizza. The current campaign features the red-roof logo with older-style lettering, along with the more recent “No one outpizzas the Hut” slogan.
Radley wants Pizza Hut to have more of a “bold, confident tone.”
The use of the red roof, plus the return of Tiffany-style lamps, including the brand name in the design, which are being installed in some new locations, give Pizza Hut “a nod back to where we came from but also with a modern twist,” she says.
“This is not an effort to kind of latch onto a throwback trend. It’s more of a recognition of the time period where Pizza Hut unequivocally reigned supreme,” Radley says.
“To be successful as a brand today, you really need to be relevant, easy and distinct,” says Radley. In the "ease" category, Pizza Hut has been expanding its beer-delivery program in certain states and by the end of the summer it expects to be able to deliver beer from more than 1,000 of its 7,000-plus U.S. locations. It gives Pizza Hut a distinct play as the only national pizza chain currently delivering beer, she notes.
Future plans include a new, undisclosed product set to be released this fall, says Radley .
Pizza Hut's U.S. same-store sales were flat in the first quarter, after rising 2 percent in 2018, which marked the chain’s first annual gain in sales at longstanding U.S. locations since 2015.
Pizza Hut is the 11th-largest restaurant chain in the country, by system-wide sales, according to industry research firm Technomic. Rival Domino’s ranks ninth.
Here's a look at the current cheesy bites commercial: