GSD&M, Austin / PIZZA HUT / 2021
Back in the day, Pizza Hut was the best. Across the US, its red roofs dotted the landscape like so many pepperonis. Today, those dine-in restaurants have mostly disappeared and with them the Hut’s standing in the category. Competitors Domino’s and Papa John’s have now surpassed Pizza Hut in number of restaurants, total sales and media spend with the industry-wide shift in focus to delivery.
Unfortunately, the Pizza Hut dine-in experience, just as much as the pizza, is what people loved most about the brand. So how do you capitalize on that unique brand love when the restaurants themselves are dying? That was our creative challenge and our brief—to deliver the classic Pizza Hut experience home.
Our objective was to steal those pizza lovers back by recapturing all the things they loved about Pizza Hut and rebooting them for a new generation.
For years, Pizza Hut was beloved for its dine-in experience including red cups, checkered tablecloths and games of Pac-Man with pizza. But as those dine-in restaurants have mostly disappeared, so too has the Hut’s standing in the category. Our challenge was to recapture that magic and reboot it for a new generation.
Our idea was to deliver the Pizza Hut experience home for millions of customers by creating an interactive augmented reality version of the classic Pac-Man game on our pizza box. With just a pizza box and your phone, the webAR experience did just that. No app. No quarters required.
With 11,260 hours played, 741 million media impressions and 10.6 million Pac-Man Boxes sold, this “newstalgia” activation successfully rekindled customers’ love for Pizza Hut while establishing new connections with younger generations. A Pizza Hut box even became the top-selling game console in the world. Technically, it’s true.
The foundation of our strategy was the idea of “newstalgia”—taking classic Pizza Hut artifacts from the past and giving them a modern spin.
When we talked with people about what they loved (or used to love) about Pizza Hut, it always came back to their unique memories of the experience. The easy thing to do would have been a simple retro campaign, but we would have alienated a huge portion of the younger population who don’t have those memories.
Embracing recognizable elements like arcade games yet putting them in a modern context with augmented reality made it a win for everyone. People who grew up with Pizza Hut and Pac-Man would recall their own experiences and those who didn’t would just appreciate the fun, novel experience for what it was. In short, it was unlike anything else in the category and something nobody but Pizza Hut could pull off.
At stores nationwide from March 14 through April 10, customers who ordered a large pizza received a special edition Pac-Man pizza box. The box was designed to mirror the aesthetic of the classic tabletop arcade game right down to the coin slot, which contained a QR code to initiate gameplay.
Scanning the QR code opens a WebAR experience through a customer’s mobile browser. No apps. No quarters required. To start play, an instructional GIF directs customers to point their phone at the maze on the box, which serves as an AR marker. Suddenly, the maze animates from the box with a visual flourish as Pac-Man, Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde all come to life.
The game was designed with three levels of increasing difficulty for casual and hardcore gamers with a global leaderboard that allowed customers to input their initials (just like the classic arcade game.)
The Pac-Man pizza box successfully rekindled customers’ love for Pizza Hut while establishing new connections with younger generations. With over 11,260 total hours played, UGC poured forth on social, making fans of hardcore gamers and pizza lovers alike.
In total, the Pac-Man Box activation received 741 million media impressions, more than doubling our impression goal with 100% positive sentiment. This resulted in a positive lift on the brand tracker in both price and value perceptions as well as food appeal and brand connection with the majority of customers asking for more games on packaging.
Most importantly, 10.6 million Pac-Man Boxes were sold, which means that for the month of March, somehow a pizza box became the top-selling game console in the world. The whole world?! Yes, we know it’s apples to pepperonis, but the Pac-Man pizza box outsold the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X…. combined.