Does Pizza Hut have sausage - or pepperoni - on its face?
then one week ago, the pizza chain was on a presidential PR high. It
created a stunt to convince attendees at Tuesday's Town Hall
presidential debate at Hofstra University, to ask President Obama and
Mitt Romney if they preferred sausage or pepperoni on their pizza.
Anyone who simply posed the question was guaranteed free pizza for life.
That's a free pizza a week for up to 30 years.
MORE: 5 things to watch for in Obama vs. Romney sequel
But Pizza Hut has
changed its tune following a spurt of negative PR on blogs and in the
media. "Some of the attention we received was not positive," concedes
Kurt Kane, chief marketing officer. "So, we decided the question was
better served online than in the debate itself."Oops. Pizza Hut is
hardly the first to have a PR stunt go awry. Nor will it be the last.
BMW had to apologize earlier this year after a PR offer to pay for the
naming rights to a weather system backfired when the system turned into
the deep freeze that claimed lives across Europe. And when rapper MGK
performed at a Microsoft store in Orlando, earlier this month, store
employees had to urge him to stop when he began destroying laptops as he
Pizza Hut is asking consumers to go online to discuss the pizza topping
question - and it's no longer urging debate-goers to ask the question.
PR and brand experts say Pizza Hut created its own PR mess.
stupid idea," says Peter Madden, CEO of AgileCat, a brand consultancy.
"It just seems like a thoughtless grab for a little bit of attention."
publicist is incredulous at the stunt. "Is this really what we want our
candidates to be talking about?" poses Katharine D. Paine, president of
KDPaine & Partners. "Why muck up a serious debate with silly
Among the bad PR the stunt's received: A segment on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report
had host Stephen Colbert posing: "What could be more American than
using our electoral process for product placement?" And the Gawker Media
blog posed this question: "Want Free Pizza Hut Pizza for Life? Just
Make a Mockery of the American Democratic System on Live TV."
Hut will randomly choose one consumer who votes on the sausage vs.
pepperoni topic on its site on Tuesday and reward them. While it's no
longer asking attendees to pose the question to the candidates, it still
will reward someone if they do, Kane says.
If Pizza Hut could
rewrite the debate question to pose to the candidates, Kane says, he'd
nix the sausage vs. pepperoni question for this one: "How are you going
to make it great for Americans - like Pizza Hut does?"