Pizza Hut's homesick alien ad breaks the QSR mold

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The ad was the third most attention-grabbing pizza ad of the past year, according to Ace Metrix

When you’re at the top of your category year after year as Pizza Hut is, you’ve earned some bragging rights. At the same time, maintaining your leadership position requires keeping your advertising fresh and engaging. Sometimes that means bringing on a new agency, sometimes not. In Pizza Hut’s case, it meant switching from Deutsch to Droga5 this year, which resulted in a newly launched campaign employing the tagline, "No One OutPizzas the Hut." The ads feature various "bragspeople," who sing the company’s praises, a premise that allows the brand to stay true to its humble foundation.

The first two television ads of the campaign launched last week, with "Homesick Alien" capturing viewer attention in impressive ways. In fact, it’s the third most attention-grabbing of all pizza ads from the past year, and highest-scoring Pizza Hut ad in this measure. Breaking away from the mold of product-focused or offer-driven QSR ads, it’s one of the more offbeat ads we’ve seen in the category in a long time.

Generally speaking, pizza ads (actually, most QSR ads) tend to be see their success based in driving desire and relevance. Relevance, in this case, is rooted in our primal need for food that looks cheesy and delicious. The Ad Personalities below for "Homesick Alien" and another Pizza Hut ad from this June, "The Best Summer", illustrate how the new ad works on surprising levels. Relative to other measures for the ad, the lovable alien commands Attention and delivers new Information.

Ad Personality
"Homesick Alien," "The Best Summer"

Moving away from what we refer to as the typical "food porn" imagery of QSR ads, this campaign uses memorable characters to engage viewers. When asked what they thought the Single Best Thing about the ad was, 19% of viewers said the Characters. While the Visual Scenes were a slightly more popular response, the only pizza ad of the past year in which the Characters were named at a higher rate (23%) is Papa John’s "Cupcakes" with Peyton Manning and current NFL player J.J. Watt. It’s tough to compete with that star power, but the alien puts up a noble fight. Here are some indicators of how the ad’s characters played out with viewers:

  • "I like that they used an alien for the main character of the ad, it made the ad more interesting." – F21-35/Attention Score 950 (Norm 689)

  • "I like the new Pizza Hut character. I think the ad is well made and conveys the ultimate message that there is no pizza on earth like Pizza Hut's." – M36-49/Attention Score 827

  • "The ad was okay. I thought the "alien character" was a unique approach. I liked that the product was shown several times in the ad. However, the ad was not particularly happy or uplifting." – M36-49/Attention Score 732

If Pizza Hut is looking to reach the youth market, this ad succeeds tremendously. Among 16-20-year-old viewers, the ad out-performs other QSR ads on every level, with the biggest gaps for Attention and Information. Looking deeper into that group, the female Gen Z-ers are where the ad really moved the needle, scoring a whopping 13% higher than other QSR ads.

A recurring theme in this column talks about how it is more important than ever for brands to make an emotional connection with audiences. These days, its can be the key to higher (or any) viewer engagement. Restaurant and QSR brands have a tough road in this area, as featuring tantalizing food imagery is their primary communication technique and that doesn’t stir much in the soul other than hunger pangs. If our alien star is any indication, Pizza Hut’s new campaign is making emotional headway. Comparing the same two ads as in the above Ad Personalities, these emotional word clouds show the plethora of emotion driven by "Homesick Alien" compared to "The Best Summer." As a reminder, the w ad promotes Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza, so stirring up other emotions is quite a boon.

Emotional Word Cloud
"Homesick Alien," "The Best Summer"

Some quotes to illustrate how the 16-20-year-olds connected emotionally to the ad:

  • "I guess Pizza Hut's trying to make me cry a river." – F16-20/Attention Score 903

  • "I thought it was really funny but added a splash of sadness into it" – M16-20/Attention Score 798

  • "I loved the alien's unique funny, and sad story." – F16-20/Attention Score 646

With more character ads on the way from Pizza Hut, we look forward to seeing what the Droga5 imaginations come up with next. For now, using an alien to convey that "Pizza Hut makes the best pizza in the entire universe, but they won’t tell you that," seems to be a great start.


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