- For its first national campaign as the official pizza sponsor of the National Football League, Pizza Hut is introducing Game Plan, a new digital platform that's part of its Hut Rewards program and lets fans access deals, receive notifications about their favorite NFL teams and enter to win football-themed prizes, per a news release. Orders placed through a corresponding Hut Rewards account will count as an additional entry to win prizes.
- Pizza Hut is also launching a new TV campaign starring NFL stars Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster. The brand is partnering with the Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams, and will host local activations, player partnerships, social impact initiatives and more.
- The company is unveiling special-edition pizza boxes with NFL team marks. Pizza Hut is also introducing the Beanbag Blitz app, an interpretation of the popular tailgate game cornhole or bean bag toss, which is compatible with its pizza boxes via augmented reality (AR). Consumers can download the app and use their smartphone camera to unlock the AR game by scanning one of the limited-edition boxes.
Pizza Hut is going all out for its first full season as an official NFL sponsor with a multi-channel campaign designed to drive awareness, engagement and loyalty among football fans. Pizza Hut is well positioned for the extra exposure its NFL sponsorship could bring with parent company Yum Brands having invested $130 million in the brand for upgraded equipment, restaurant technology, ad strategies and new delivery drivers.
While player protests about racial injustice during the singing of the National Anthem appear to have hurt ratings last season, being an NFL sponsor can still be an important way for brands to build a relationship with passionate fans. Pizza Hut's push reflects how marketers are leaning more heavily on digital marketing to complement their TV and in-stadium efforts as consumers spend more time online.
"We tapped into technology to deliver a truly immersive gameday experience to fans — specifically combining what they're most passionate about: their team, the spirit of competition, and of course, pizza," said Zipporah Allen, CMO at Pizza Hut, U.S., in a statement. "Incorporating this AR component into our lineup of new experiences is broadening our digital portfolio and engaging fans in a completely new way."
However, a potential challenge for Pizza Hut is if the controversy around the protests reignites once the 2018 professional football season kicks off on Sept. 6. The protests could polarize fans and potentially dilute the impact of a sponsorship if consumers — who want brands to stand for something these days — take sides. Nike's new campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, who initiated the player protest, has drawn fevered responses on both sides this week.
It is unclear if players will protest again now that the NFL has banned such actions or how team management and the league will respond if they do. Pizza Hut stepped in as the official NFL pizza sponsor in March when former sponsor Papa John’s severed its ties with the league after founder John Schnatter blamed his company’s poor sales on the NFL’s handling of the player protests.
The new Game Plan platform, national TV campaign and AR game tied to its pizza boxes are part of Pizza Hut's efforts to regain the top spot among pizza chains. Pizza Hut launched its revamped rewards program last year to boost sales. Linking the platform to NFL team notifications, deals and giveaways is one way to drum up excitement and help the brand grow its user base.