After Scoring Media Hits, Pizza Hut Bails on Debate

Pizza Hut has dropped its plan to offer a pie per week for 30 years or a check for $15,600 to anyone who posed the question "sausage or pepperoni?" to either President Barack Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney during the Oct. 16 live Town Hall-style debate.

Pizza Hut was criticized for making a mockery of—and for trying to insert the brand into—the presidential debate, which led brand to turn the stunt into an open online contest instead.

Despite the cancellation of this bold dare, it was mission accomplished for Pizza Hut. The promotion, and news of its cancellation, received coverage from Stephen Colbert, The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, among 372 other news articles.

Aaron Perlut, partner at St. Louis-based digital PR agency Elasticity, says that while he's typically not a fan of PR stunts when it comes to client work, every once in awhile an opportunity comes along that really makes an impact and inserts a brand into topical conversations. Perlut would know—he was part of the team behind the 2012 Platinum PR WOW Award-winning 'Stache Act campaign for H&R Block, which featured some hairy PR stunts. 

"What Pizza Hut did with 'sausage or pepperoni' was reminiscent of the Burger King Whopper Sacrifice campaign. Sure, it got pulled quickly, but the damage was done in a very good way," says Perlut. "It created an immediate discussion in the middle of an issue that most Americans are focused on right now, squarely centering the brand in a lively debate and providing it with great visibility."

Marcie Klein, senior VP at Pollock Communications, says that a strategic and fun stunt can have humor and originality without being in bad taste. "A stunt should personify the brand personality," says Klein, adding that Pizza Hut should now build on the buzz and turn any negative coverage into positive actions. "[Pizza Hut should] conceive a program that encourages its target audience of young consumers to get out and vote and let their voice be heard. Tell them it’s about more than sausage and pepperoni—it’s about their future."

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg