It’s Pizza Hut Hut, not Pizza Hut.
That’s of course if you are visiting the Pizza Hut location in Atlanta that was renamed Pizza Hut Hut ahead of Super Bowl LIII.
In the company’s first year as the official pizza sponsor of the NFL, Pizza Hut leveraged everything from athletes like Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to technology like AR to turn its pizza boxes into cornhole boards.
While it may seem like the brand did a lot of different things from an activation standpoint, the moves were made to take advantage of the first year of its deal with the NFL — a coming-out party of sorts.
“With the NFL partnership, we really had one goal of focusing on the fan and making them the center of everything we do,” said Marianne Radley, chief brand officer at Pizza Hut. “In our first year as the official pizza sponsor of the NFL, we wanted to be able to shout our relationship from the rooftops. It will all culminate Super Bowl Sunday with everything we are doing on the ground in Atlanta and across the country for our customers.”
Now, with the company’s first Super Bowl ahead of them, the theme of “overdelivering” is on everyone’s mind.
By all accounts, Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for Pizza Hut. This year, it’s even bigger.
How big is big? Pizza Hut has been having Super Bowl Sunday prep rallies in its stores to get its team members ready for Sunday.
A Deal 14 Hours in the Making
Fourteen hours in February were all that was needed to change how this year’s NFL season would go for the largest pizza chain in America.
Shortly after Papa John’s and the NFL decided to make a “mutual decision to shift from their official league sponsorship to a focus on partnerships with 22 local NFL teams,” the league announced that it was teaming up with Pizza Hut.
Signing the deal in February of 2018, Pizza Hut had six weeks to ramp up for the 2018 NFL Draft, a task that was as challenging as it was exciting according to Radley.
“I’ve worked on a lot of experiential marketing programs and partnerships in my career, but this one, in particular, was one that I’m so proud of our team for sprinting so quickly and collaborating so well with the NFL to be able to pull it off.”
— Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport) January 22, 2019
From there, the brand dipped its toes into deals with teams, locking in four teams, three of which made the playoffs, and one, the Rams, who will take the field this coming Sunday with a chance to win it all.
Outside of league and team deals, Pizza Hut turned to players like Todd Gurley, Tyler Lockett, and JuJu Smith-Schuster to bring the brand message to life from a player perspective.
“We felt that the players we signed represented the excitement and passion of football as well as a love of life and joy that creates magical moments,” added Radley. “Pizza Hut as a brand is about fostering community and that’s what these players helped us do. It was a really nice fit.”
Big Plans for the Big Game
With over 100 million people tuned into the game and hundreds of thousands on the ground in Atlanta, Pizza Hut wanted to make sure it didn’t miss a beat.
In Atlanta alone, the company rebranded one of its stores, is rolling out a fleet of branded delivery vehicles, and will double-down on its use of AR with an activation at the Super Bowl Experience that will have people dancing.
Ahead of the Super Bowl, @pizzahut has rebranded some of its stores in Atlanta to “Pizza Hut Hut”.
Pizza Hut is in the first year of its deal with the NFL as the league’s official pizza sponsor. pic.twitter.com/SkU8IqQpA1
— Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport) January 22, 2019
“Throughout the year, we showcased Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster in our commercials. We decided we were going to bring their personalities to life via AR,” mentioned Radley. “Thanks to the technology, fans will have the opportunity to dance alongside both of the players. The dancing will be recorded and the fans will get a takeaway to share on social media.”
While Radley even admits that they took a big bite of the apple when it came to incorporating so many different marketing elements, the goal was to be as inclusive as possible.
“We looked at it (the Super Bowl activation) and said nothing is impossible,” added Radley. “With an opportunity to connect our brand with fans during a moment that matters, we really wanted to take an inclusive approach to make sure we were resonating with as many consumers as possible. We wanted messages that would radiate with humor, connect the fans, and were relevant. In order for us to do that, we knew we couldn’t do it with just one tactic.”
A good look at the AR activation @pizzahut put together for this year’s Super Bowl.
— Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport) February 1, 2019
One of the more unique tactics that they will roll out come Super Bowl Sunday is a discount on Super Bowl merchandise.
Thanks to their partnership with the NFL, Pizza Hut will be offering the only discount on official Super Bowl merchandise purchased on nflshop.com and will only be available for Pizza Hut rewards members who purchase a pizza on Super Bowl Sunday.
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The 20-percent off discount will be redeemable on gear, including Super Bowl gear, starting on the Monday after Super Bowl and running through the end of February.
A collaborative effort between the league and the brand, Radley pointed to the NFL’s willingness to make this happen as one of the important factors in having it all come together.
“We do a lot of our sales through our Hut Rewards program and we wanted to reward our most loyal customers. We want to be innovative, we want to be unique, and we wanted to give customers an experience that they haven’t been able to have before. Luckily, the NFL bought into what we wanted to deliver for our fans.”
With all eyes on the Super Bowl, Radley and the team at Pizza Hut see an opportunity that is not just about garnering a few more ad impressions, but serving as a way for them to test new concepts, new initiatives, and ultimately new products.
“This is a springboard for innovation for us. With something like our $5 lineup, we are taking the messaging beyond just pizza. The idea behind the offering is to bring in new products at a very low price barrier that consumers can come in and try. We’re using our relationship with the NFL as a mechanism for talking about our innovation within the QSR category.”
New Year, New Opportunities
As the final chapter for the 2019 NFL season gets set to play out on the field, Radley and her team are already preparing for next year.
With a year of lead time to work with instead of six weeks, plans for 2019 include improvement in areas such as diversifying their audience and providing more personal experience to consumers.
Like any multi-year deal, it’s a work in progress.
“We’re really pleased with the partnership in year one. The way we look at things like sales is more of a holistic approach. For example, we know that the volume of orders placed this season not only bolstered sales, but also brand sentiment. As we go forward, we’re looking at ways in which we can improve purchase consideration, connection to the brand, and diversifying our audience a bit more.”
To do this, Radley will lean on her performance marketing team to deliver a more personalized approach.
“We will continue to look at ways to bring the partnership to a localized fan base so that we can do more targeted and personalized communication. The goal will be to find ways to amplify our partnership by providing more of a personalized experience to our current customers and the new ones that we bring in.”
If everything goes according to plan, Hotlanta will be HUTlanta come Super Bowl Sunday.