Made You Look! Why Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Freakshow Has Already Won

What does Pizza Hut have in common with reality TV stars? Plenty.

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Much like the Kardashians, Gangnam Style, and the "Leave Britney Alone" guy, the Pizza Hut Hot Dog Bites Pizza is destined to become a pop culture phenomenon that seemingly nobody asked for. However, much like the others, the hot dog pizza will achieve its goal: making you look, over and over again. To that end, the product could pay dividends for Pizza Hut, even if the pizza with hot dog bites for crust tastes terrible.

 

Shocking? Not really

After spending the past decade with a relatively stagnant menu, Pizza Hut began swinging for the fences in 2015. The chain had already introduced new crusts and drizzles in the beginning of the year and, starting June 18th, it began selling pigs-n-a blanket pizza with mustard.

Shocking? Not really. The move predictably fits the "bold new product" marketing strategy of Yum! Brands, the parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC. The idea is to launch new products often, the more ridiculous the better. It's no different than when Yum! launched KFC's Double Down, or Taco Bell's Grilled Stuffed Nacho; the goal is to get people talking. When these moves have worked for Yum!, they've paid off big. When they haven't worked, Yum! scraped the product, ala the Waffle Taco, and moved on quickly. In the end, the hits have outweighed the misses and both KFC and Taco Bell have stayed relevant.

Pizza Hut has not. Its sales were flat last year, and same-store sales dipped 1%, even as competitors like Domino's and Papa John's had a renaissance. Naturally, The Hut is hoping its new product offerings will boost sales the way its original Stuffed Crust Pizza once did. At the very least the shock factor has made people notice Pizza Hut again.

 

Risk factor

Unhealthy. Freakshow. The Hot Dog Bites Pizza is being called some nasty things, and it's garnering its fair share of bad headlines. But most of those labels were also cast upon Yum!'s most popular creation, Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Tacos, before it reached a whopping $1 billion in sales its first year. 

The risk of the "unhealthy" label damaging Pizza Hut is quite minimal. Yes, American's are opting for healthier choices, but nobody in their right mind is expecting Pizza Hut to deliver them. Consumers already have their high-quality pizza joints on speed dial. Pizza Hut, like Taco Bell and KFC, has a niche market: the young, the broke, and (often) the inebriated. Sure, the occasional little league coach or mom on a budget may be a bit turned off, but I think the intrigue outweighs that risk. Yes, I think most of Pizza Hut's base will be intrigued enough and even soccer moms will give it a try for post-game celebrations. 

Yum! Brands gets it

It would be far riskier for Pizza Hut to aim high because the high-end crowd won't buy it and its base could be turned off. Just ask McDonald's, after a few years of chasing  popular trends, serving premium coffee that no Starbucks snob would buy, it alienated its customers with long lines and a confusing brand identity.

It's far better to galvanize a shrinking fan base by doubling down on a "wow" product than to try and be something you can't be. 

I'm not saying that I would bet the farm on Yum! Brands stock, but at the very least it understands its audience. The people that will be offended by the Hot Dog Bites Pizza wouldn't buy anything at Pizza Hut anyway, and its core audience let out a collective "dude, no way" when it sent out this tweet. Pizza Hut has gained the attention of its fans and news headlines--it's already won. If anyone actually enjoys the Hot Dog Bites Pizza, it'll just be mustard on the cake.