Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pasta la vista Pizza Hut

Shakespeare famously wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and ‘Pasta Hut’ must have hoped that their re-brand would bring them the sweet smell of success, although quite frankly, the new name caused quite a stink in the marketing world.

Pizza Hut recently became the latest in a line of notable food brands taking proactive steps to shift consumer perceptions of their brand. Keen to stress the increased variety in their menu and healthier eating options, ‘Pizza Hut’ announced it was dispensing with the ‘Pizza’ and began a re-brand process which apparently included a complete refurb of their UK stores over the next few years.

Pizza was to remain on the menu, amongst a myriad of healthier pasta options. But how would consumers digest this shift in Pizza Hut’s offerings, as well as the much maligned name change?

McDonald’s bowed to increasing public pressure a few years ago and introduced a range of salads, fruit and fresh juices to its menu. To the more cynical amongst us, this move represented a carefully planned response to negative press as opposed to any genuinely concerted effort to improve the eating habits of their loyal (if large) clientele. A tad harsh I hear you cry? Perhaps not, considering it was uncovered that a McDonald’s Caesar salad contained more fat than a hamburger.

Several years on and McDonald’s remains a haven for those seeking burgers, fries and reprocessed chicken. Whilst salads remain on the menu to satisfy government lobbyists and health activists, the millions of consumers streaming through the drive thru continue to vote with their stomachs, unanimously choosing meat as opposed to leaves.

So what of the ‘Pasta Hut’? Well, several weeks into what was a significant campaign including a run of slightly over the top and gushing TV ads it seems there has been a change of heart! Or has there??! Initial reports were that the loyal ‘Deep Pan’ brigade were incensed with the thought of being caught up in more spaghetti and revolted, causing an embarrassing about-face for the company and the Marketing department.

However, rumour has it that the whole exercise was, in itself, just a marketing ploy to raise the brand profile and that there was never any intention to change the name! What say you folks?? Was this a clever marketing execution? Or was it a case of backtracking faster than a pizza delivery boy in the 29th minute??

Did they really believe that a concerted effort to offer healthier options would make a genuine difference to their loyal customers? Were we really going to go out and eat at a fast food chain for an all you can eat gnocchi buffet? Were the late night city dwellers going to go and grab a nice bowl of linguini after a night of alcoholic indulgence?

I don’t think so and whatever the story behind it, in my opinion the proverbial leopard can’t change its spots and unfortunately for ‘Pasta Hut’, those spots are small and pepperoni-shaped. The pizza is there to stay, and the name should be too.

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