How Pizza Hut's Taste Freedom brand revival hinges on 'fewer, bigger' social media drives

Pizza Hut's Taste Freedom campaign

Pizza Hut has fortified against heavy competition from rivals like Domino’s, Papa John’s and disrupters like JustEat and UberEats over the last decade with a bold tone of voice on social and a keen eye for influencers.

Dadi Award-winning PR and social agency Tangerine reflected on running Pizza Hut's social media account, noting how it drove brand’s “revival” with a mix of social and influencer marketing over the last three years.

The Hut debuted in the UK in 1973 but more than four decades later, it must defend and expand its slice of the UK pizza pie. It is enticing younger customers by using social media to position it as a casual dining - or delivery - option.

The Taste Freedom campaign saw Domino's chief executive David Wild partly blame a 1.5% sales drop on its “very aggressive” rival Pizza Hut. The success of these efforts were marked in October at the Dadi Awards 2018 with Tangerine winning ‘digital/creative team of the year’ and best use of ‘social media’.

The agency was briefed with attracting 16-30 year old’s through the company's doors among what it describes as a "declining casual dining industry".

Here's how it achieved this goal:

Lisa Hale, associate director at Tangerine, who worked on the Taste Freedom campaign reflected on the work and how the social media sphere has changed since 2016.

“If we were to pull together a campaign today, we’d probably think twice about using macro influencers." She adds. "As it stands, influencers are over-used and #ad or ‘paid partnership’ is becoming ever more transparent, particularly for younger audiences who see straight through it. It doesn’t mean anything. If you are going to use them, it has to be authentic and not a tick box or add-on to a campaign.”

She reasons that the social media environment was “very different” at the time the campaign launched, in particular, the war on influencer fraud was yet to be declared by the industry.

Gaming audience

Tangerine identified which audiences had the greatest propensity for the brand - and which ones could. Gamers were immediately identified as a space to play in.

Hale says: “Digging deeper into our young millennial/igen audience, it was clear 'Taste Freedom' meant time with mates (on and offline) and being part of an active ‘community’. Gaming was the conduit for this and played a huge role in their lives.”

This insight took the form of a partnership with gaming influencers the Sidemen and as a sponsor of their Upload 2017 festival.

"That was just a starting point, the work had to be authentic," Hale says.

“You can circumvent the most obvious #ad, so long as the product doesn’t look shoe-horned and who you are working with would naturally buy it. The Sidemen has a natural affiliation with the brand that money can’t buy, which helped ensure the conversation was authentic and we got the absolute most out of the activations.”

For Hale, it was also vital that these social partnerships were built into the real world through experiential activity. This helped “make the content more meaningful and relevant to our audience”.

The work, she claims, reached 90.5 million people, saw 27.3 million video views and 1.4 million GenZ engagements. Furthermore, Comedy Shorts Gamer also generated early success (5.8 million) views from an in-restaurant prank (a subtle integration staged in Pizza Hut). However, more broadly, since late 2015, brands have fallen out of love with the risqué, prank style influencer. One of the many bumps on this road was the Logan Paul Suicide Forest video.

To avoid troublesome placements, Hale believes that the influencer must have an affinity with the brand to “naturally place key messages without it jarring”. The key example of a campaign failing to click must be influencer Scarlett Dixon (aka Scarlett London)'s infamous Instagram shots for Listerine.

Tone of voice

Beyond its influencer elements, the brand was also required to develop a strong and consistent tone of voice that enabled it a say in relevant events breaking on social platforms. In pursuit of a young audience, likely to congregate under the red roof restaurants, it gained substantial reach and media coverage critiquing and reimagining Kanye West’s album artwork, and responding to One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson demanding pizza over Twitter *despite not being in a delivery area.

For many brands, social seems to be difficult to measure platform, many are unclear about their objectives or how to achieve them. Social paired with experiential has delivered sales uplift for Pizza Hut though, at least at a local level. Hale says: “We did see direct sales uplifts in particular huts surrounding key experiential events with The Sidemen and a Vamps collaboration in 2015.”

But beyond that, and aiding the dining consideration process is brand fame, which was delivered on a global level several times.

In building the tone of voice, a test and learn approach was adopted as Pizza Hut looked to carve out its niche. It was not particularly looking to other brands for inspiration.

As the partnership matured, day-to-day content and community management was replaced with more ambitious work in the second year. Hale says “fewer, bigger campaigns” became a point of focus.

The agency’s in-house studio, the 24-7 shift team and its understanding of story-telling have helped the brand stand above other Dadi’s entrants numerous times, in Hale’s opinion.

She concludes: “We focus less on the channel, more on the audience - understand their behaviour and tell a story in a way that’s relevant to them and this generates real business results. In a years’ time, the platforms we do this on will change again.”

Find other winning entries from this year's Dadi Awards at the dedicated website.

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