Pizza Hut backs off 'pizza topping' quiz for the big presidential debate

It seemed like a great idea in the fevered American presidential race : offer attendees at next week's debate (when audience questions will be allowed) a lifetime of free pizza if they asked Obama and Romney which pizza topping they preferred - sausage or pepperoni.

Pizza Hut: egg on their face?

However the 'Pizza Party' stunt has becoming unglued after a wave of criticism.

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

Associated Press asked if the stunt could actually ruin the debate entirely, angering viewers who expect Romney and Obama to talk about health care and the economy.

Stephen Colbert said on Comedy Central that the promise to one lucky winner of a pizza each week for life --which per the contract rules equals up to 30 years -- could be interpreted as: "If you eat one of their pizzas every week, you will die in 30 years."

Now Pizza Hut has dropped the idea. Instead it is moving the toppings question online and will 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 with hundreds of media outlets picking it up -- 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.

The campaign was created by Pizza Hut's PR agency, Edelman's Zeno.

AdAge said that although there was an overwhelmingly negative reaction to the stunt, "at the same time, Pizza Hut managed to garner a wealth of press in the span of a few days."

A spokesman for Pizza Hut 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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