Pizza Huts Tuscani Ad was More Clever Than You Thought
By Tom Dougherty
You’ve probably remember the ad. It opened with 50 New Yorkers tasting pasta at what appears to be a swanky Manhattan restaurant called Tuscani.
The Alfredo is Great!
The New Yorkers exclaim over the dishes. “The alfredo is great!” says one trendy-looking, young man. Then comes the clincher: The cook comes out and says he didn’t even cook it. Instead, the crowd is told that Pizza Hut made the pasta.
The taste testers are shocked – and somehow giddy by the notion that Pizza Hut, of all places, made pasta great enough to fool them. Here’s the dirty, little secret, though: It’s not that hard to fool them. You could have put any kind of decent pasta out there and the tasters would have given it a thumbs-up.
It Wasn’t Pizza Hut
It wasn’t the food they were reacting to. It was brand – and not Pizza Hut’s, by the way. It was the brand of “Tuscani” the Italian restaurant in Manhattan where this pasta was served. That’s especially true when you consider that, as the New York Times recently reported, the respondents were eating at a restaurant called Provence, a well-known Italian restaurant in SoHo, not Tuscani as the ad would leave you to believe. (There is no restaurant in NYC called Tuscani and is instead the name of Pizza Hut’s new line of pasta.)The folks that made the Pizza Huts Tuscani Ad never seemed to notice.
The Diners Saw Themselves
However, the important revelation for marketers is that the taste testers were responding to the brand of where they were because they saw themselves in it. They are well-to-do, handsome and pretty, young New Yorkers who, they believed, can appreciate the fine things in life, including recognizing a quality SoHo restaurant.
The Pepsi Challenge
There are numerous other examples of taste testers responding to the power of brand. Many years ago, Coca-Cola realized that Pepsi was seriously cutting into its market share and became alarmed. Coca-Cola couldn’t believe that customers were actually choosing Pepsi and were even more alarmed when Pepsi started winning blind-taste tests by a significant margin. (Remember the Pepsi Challenge?)
However, someone at Coca-Cola got smart and did the taste tests over. Only this time, the tests were not conducted blind. Taste testers could actually see the brand they were drinking, see the cans themselves, and amazingly Coke handily won the taste tests by an even more significant margin.
The Coke Brand
Why? Because there was something about the Coke brand that spoke to the respondents so powerfully that they now believed Coke tasted better. Most of us, if not all, don’t like to hear those kinds of stories because it proves we make purchasing decisions for reasons that aren’t the considered, knowledgeable reasons we think they are. But the truth is that we all make purchasing decisions every day based on brand and only backfill those decisions with seemingly more thoughtful reasons.
Is it the Taste?
Ask a beer drinker why they are loyal to market leader Budweiser and they will tell you it’s about the taste. Yet Budweiser rarely wins the taste tests. What Budweiser has understood for a long time is that the power of brands ends up determining market share and preference. The companies that understand that are the most successful.
What you do as a business is the business of your business. But what determines your ultimate success is the business of your brand, what you mean to customers. In some fashion, the most successful businesses consider themselves marketers first. Does Nike really make the best running shoe?
Those loyal to Nike will tell you they do, but have those joggers really done research and compared shoes? In most cases, probably not. Instead, they responded to Nike’s brand about no-nonsense achievement – “Just Do It” – and backfilled other reasons such as comfort to justify the choice. No running shoe company could exist if its shoes weren’t comfortable. No beer could exist if it didn’t have good taste.
Pizza Hut branding strategy seeks to understand that but they seem a bit lost. This has been the brand of Crunchy Cheesy Crust Pizza and Dippin’ Strips, which doesn’t exactly scream trendy SoHo. Pizza Hut understood that, to convince those who wouldn’t be caught dead seeing themselves in the Pizza Hut brand, it had to align itself with another brand that spoke to them. Clever.
And very effective. It really doesn’t matter that there is no restaurant called Tuscani in New York City. Pizza Hut branding build a physical brand that reflected who the taste testers were (it’s unclear whether they knew it was Provence, but most likely they did) and turned the tables on them so they were forced to accept Pizza Hut as a brand. The true cleverness is now that the taste testers know it was Pizza Hut they can’t go back and say the food was bad. Otherwise, they would be admitting they responded to brand. And no likes to admit that. Right?