Ad Report Card: Pizza Hut Laughs at the Election Crisis

Topical commercials have the obvious appeal (for advertisers) of seeming somehow fresher. If it’s true that the American consumer’s attention invariably drifts to the new and the now, then an ad that plays off news events works as a stunt that, at the very least, gets noticed. (The “Got Milk” print campaign has often pushed this envelope, slapping a milk mustache on “celebrities” like the Survivor finalists before their shelf-life expires.)

As you know, the sole topic in the United States of America at the moment is the lingering fracas over which presidential candidate won the vote in Florida, and thus the Electoral College and the presidency itself. Stepping up to exploit this situation for commercial gain is Pizza Hut. The company slapped together an ad for its “Insider” pie, which you can view here on the Pizza Hut Web site, and reportedly began airing it this past Thursday night.

The Ad: Given that tight time frame, it’s perhaps no surprise that this spot is kind of slapdash. The opening image is the familiar blue- and red-coded electoral map. “Hail To The Chief” plays quietly, and a Florida map zooms up to fill the screen. The chirpy announcer says: “Some day you can tell your grandkids you were there when Florida decided the next president by voting for Bush. No, Gore. No, no Bush; no, Gore.” (With each flip-flop the state changes from blue to red and back.) “Well, anyway, at least you can tell them you tried the Insider Pizza from Pizza Hut.” Here the ad segues to more typical Pizza Hut imagery of solid Americans slopping down this latest advance in pizza technology, whose virtues, enumerated by the announcer, revolve around massive amounts of cheese sealed within an extra layer of crust. It’s a pizza inside a pizza, if you can believe it. “Some day,” the announcer says brightly, “the grandkids are gonna ask, ‘Grandpa, who was elected president in 2000?’ and you’ll say, ‘I don’t know, they’re still recounting the votes, but I did try the Insider Pizza!’ “

A Good Idea? There is supposedly some risk in this sort of thing–making light of a national crisis and all. But I think that’s silly. No one is going to be upset with Pizza Hut, rivers of ridicule have roared through this election from the beginning, and few doubt that the American way of life will survive this crisis. That said, this is not the most clever commercial. It’s mildly impressive that Pizza Hut cooked it up and got it out there so fast. But this telling-your-grandkids riff seems to imply that the Insider Pizza is sort of a culinary pet rock, destined to be forgotten quickly. That may well be the case, but I doubt it’s the message Pizza Hut wants to convey. A minor change to the ad copy (stressing that you’d been on hand for the birth of the subsequently famous Insider Pizza, or that you can remember the time before Insider Pizzas even existed) could have solved this problem.

The Grade: But still, the ad does jump out, and has the added benefit of almost guaranteeing after-the-fact publicity, such as this review. That, of course, is the real payoff to topical advertising. In light of that, I’ll give the spot a B-minus. And as the vote squabble drags on, it’ll be interesting to see if other companies jump on the bandwagon, perhaps including some whose brands are a better fit with this particular news onslaught. Such as? Well, Banana Republic does leap to mind. …