Pizza Hut revives ‘OG’ branding to kickstart growth: ‘We lost sight of where we came from’

Pizza Hut brings back its branding from the late 20th century

Pizza Hut’s latest campaign features a bolder tone of voice and a resurrection of its red-roof logo – two things its chief brand officer hopes will resuscitate consumer love for the pizza chain after a period of brand shyness and slow growth.

The brand has chosen to unveil its new branding through a campaign for Cheesy Bites, its limited edition, tear-and-share crust pizza. The snappy flagship commercial for the menu item is packed with product shots and an assertive voiceover, which concludes that “no-one outpizzas the Hut”.

The slogan may be staying the same, but the brand has changed its logo back to the geometric roof and heavy, slab serif type that ran between 1967 and 1999. The return to its 20th century emblem forms part of the brand’s latest strategy: go back to its roots to reassert what it stands for an in a crowded QSR market.

“Pizza Hut is ... an American, iconic classic that’s ingrained in people's hearts and minds,” said Marianne Radley, Pizza Hut’s chief brand officer. “We attest that to the fact we really were the original pizza company – the first national pizza chain – and we're celebrating that with a little more of a confident and unapologetic tone.

“As we evolved, our tone changed and there really wasn't a clear understanding of what we stood for. We should never have lost sight of where we came from, and that’s the fact we were born in a restaurant, not a board room. That's really a point of difference for us within the category.”

A bolder tone of voice is needed for the brand to cut through in the US QSR scene, since its president told investors he was “dissatisfied” with Pizza Hut’s growth last December, despite notable investment into marketing activity and restaurant revamps.

Radley, who joined from Monster Energy in February 2018, believes a bolder strategy tapping into customer nostalgia may kickstart growth again. Qualitative research conducted with more than 3,000 consumers reported customers still consider Pizza Hut as “the OG of the pizza category” – it just needs to own that position more in its communications.

Pizza Hut’s internal marketing team spent two days with its agency of record, GSD&M, sifting through the company’s archives at the Pizza Hut museum in Wichita, Kansas. The group trawled original menus and recipe cards to reacquaint themselves with the icons the restaurant was once famed for: checked tablecloths, red glass tumblers and Tiffany-style lamps.

“It made us see that when the Carney brothers first [founded the chain], their big thing was having more guts than brains,” said Radley. “We thought to ourselves, we need have more guts in what we're doing and be more confident. I think we shied away from that over the years.”

The Cheesy Bites TV campaign will be supported by outdoor and print, as well as digital display, online video and a “heavy” social strategy, according to the marketer. But while above-the-line rebrand and a recently-inked sponsorship of the NFL will make a splash, Pizza Hut is boosting its CRM and loyalty strategy to drive growth, too.

The restaurant chain has spent the last year-and-a-half building out its performance marketing team, which has been charged with enhancing its loyalty and rewards programs to they can seamlessly integrate with product launches, such as Cheesy Bites.

“Our [CRM] team does a great job in targeting the fans with the right messaging and adding some really engaging content to it,” said Radley. “It's very important to us that they're a pillar within our marketing, and it's something we're going to continue to improve on and evolve.”

With all of Radley’s strategies – be they altering branding, menu innovation, tactical product launches or expanding performance marketing – she is guided by one outcome: driving traffic onto delivery platforms and into restaurants. The marketer came on board at a time of trepidation in the company, which had been through five creative agencies in 10 years and often found itself pulling up behind Domino’s in the American pizza wars.

“I want to be more top of mind and this creative work is [designed] to create a little more breakthrough,” she said. “We ... were the first national pizza chain that people loved, and we want to tap into that love and that connection people have with the brand to again win their consideration.”

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