Pizza Hut, in its first season as the official sponsor of the National Football League, has charted a multi-platform game plan that launches this week with augmented reality smartphone apps, a player-based ad campaign and other initiatives – including more units delivering beer.
“It gives us a much larger platform to connect with consumers and let them experience our pizza,” said Marianne Radley, Pizza Hut chief brand officer, in a phone interview. “Everything we are doing from an activation side is bringing that game closer to them at home.”
Radley called it “home-gating,” or replicating the football stadium tailgating in the home.
The Plano, Texas-based Pizza Hut in February took over the NFL sponsorship a day after competitor Papa John’s International Inc. terminated its eight-year deal with the league. And the division of Yum! Brands Inc. launched the multi-year NFL partnership in April with the 2018 NFL Draft.
“The draft gave us a lot of onsite activation,” Radley said, and the brand took pizzas to the homes of some of the draftees.
But in its first fall season with the league, Pizza Hut has tailored its marketing to appeal to those watching the games at home.
“For us, it is a great platform to talk to tons of fans of football,” Radley said. “We’ve got hundreds of thousands of fans in the stadium, but there’s millions more at home. We’re really talking to those home-viewing fans.”
A newly branded “Hut Hut Hut” pizza box, for example, serves as the playing field for a new smartphone app that allows users to play an augmented reality version of cornhole, a tailgate staple, with the Pizza Hut box as a “Beanbag Blitz” game area.
Once downloaded to an Android or iOS device, players can unlock the AR component by lining their camera up with the top of the special-edition box, which features the 32 NFL teams. Once unlocked, the game is played as it normally would be, as a team of two taking turns tossing beanbags onto the virtual cornhole board with the flick of a finger.
“I think there is a lot of opportunity going the augmented reality route,” Radley said. “I think you’ll see us doing more with it.”
Pizza Hut is also expanding beer delivery, which began in December at restaurants in the Phoenix, Ariz., area.
“Our first market was in Arizona — Phoenix — and then we brought it into California and then Nebraska,” Radley said.
Currently Pizza Hut has beer delivery in about 93 stores in the states, she said.
“We’ll soon be bringing it into another state within the next two weeks,” Radley added, “but I can’t release that just yet.”
Radley said more than 40 percent of the NFL’s fan base is female, “so we’re really directing a lot of our messaging to invite the female audience into the brand.”
And about 75 percent of U.S. residents identify as NFL fans, she added, with 37 of the top 50 most-watched television events in 2017 being NFL games.
The brand has developed a new digital platform within its Hut Rewards loyalty program and called Game Plan. It allows fans to access special deals, receive kickoff reminders for their favorite NFL team and enter to win a different football-themed prize every week. Fans can enroll in Game Plan by visiting PizzaHut.com/NFL.
Later this week, Pizza Hut will air its first national NFL TV campaign, which stars Pittsburgh Steelers’ star wide receivers Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The ads will also feature Pizza Hut’s offer of a large two-topping pizza for $7.99, which will continue through the season.
In addition, the company is urging the restaurant teams to get involved in the game promotions.
“We’re encouraging our team members to wear their team jerseys when they work their shifts,” Radley said. “It’s another shot in the arm for us.”
Pizza Hut, founded in 1958, has more than 16,700 units worldwide in more than 100 countries.
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