Surekha Ragavan
Nov 2, 2020

Pie, purpose and pandemic: Pizza Hut's pan-Asia pan-pizza plan

Pizza Hut’s APAC chief brand officer Pankaj Batra discusses marketing spend, how the brand spices up its market-specific offerings, learnings from Covid, and his belief that pizza is the ultimate egalitarian food.

Pie, purpose and pandemic: Pizza Hut's pan-Asia pan-pizza plan

Pizza Hut is arguably the most beloved pizza chain in Asia, one that invokes nostalgic memories and a spirit of community and family. In Campaign Asia Pacific’s Top 1000 brands, the brand is the strongest performer in the pizza category and has remained stable in the 20s for the last six years.

Most recently, the brand celebrated 40 years of its most iconic product: the Pan Pizza. It remains an unchanged menu item since the 1980s, and has been effective in setting the brand apart from its rivals. We speak with Pizza Hut’s APAC chief brand officer, Pankaj Batra, about marketing a trademark product through the years, setbacks during Covid, and creative styles across a region with wildly different palates. 

What are the Covid-related challenges you’ve faced in the last 10 months?

We're fortunate for two reasons. The first is that we have the trust of our consumers. And we know in difficult times, consumers tend to gravitate towards brands they trust.

The second is that delivery and ecommerce were already large parts of our business. I'd say the challenges were relatively ‘easier’ for us, but preparing for contactless and the speed of response were a challenge. And of course making sure that our digital platforms were efficient, as well as catering to the increase in volume, which was dramatic.

China was the first market in the world to have launched contactless delivery. That was a big initiative because consumers were looking for that element of trust in their transactions. And that was adopted very quickly by the rest of Asia.

Pankaj Batra

Has Pizza Hut shifted its marketing spend due to Covid?

I'd say we pivoted towards delivery in general given that people are staying at home. And we are investing more in media, especially in digital to reassure consumers that the brand is affordable. In these times, we want to reinforce that consumers have the option of entry-priced pizza. There’s an element of uncertainty that all of us are dealing with, and that’s made consumers more value-conscious.

With regards to Pan Pizza, how do you think about re-marketing this same product over and over again so that it remains fresh?

We do try and offer more choices to consumers. And we do that by expanding the kind of toppings that are available. Out of 15 menu items in any APAC market, 10 are common across the countries. But there are always three or four that are unique to the market.

Hawaiian is very popular in Singapore and Malaysia, and then there's bulgogi beef in Japan and seafood in Hong Kong. We try and reinforce the core elements of what makes pizza exciting, and then try and offer new toppings every time we promote them.

The tastes and the preferences do vary from one country to the other. And therefore, that makes it important to not try a one-size-fits-all approach. Spice is one example. Just adding more heat and making the pizza a little spicier seems to be more ‘trendy’ in general, but the levels of heat, the type of chilies, or the type of heat that we want to provide may vary a lot from one market to another.

What do you take into consideration when marketing to Gen Z?

We try to be more distinctive in what we do as a brand, as well as distinctive in terms of the kind of advertising we do. In Singapore, for example, we have the durian cheesy 7, as we know a lot of the Asian markets have a passion for durian. We did a Laksalicious pizza (see video above) a few months ago in Singapore [conceptualised by creative agency Blaklabs], which did extremely well. The camera eats before you do, so we're catering to that. The other thing, of course, is ease. We know that for the younger generation, convenience is really important. We’re also running contests like a new cheese pull challenge on TikTok.

Are you adopting different creative styles across the different markets in APAC?

With a global campaign, the look and feel may be similar. We want to make sure that as a brand, we are consistent when it comes to standards and processes. But at the same time, we recognise that food is culture, and it’s very personal. So we allow each market room to improvise based on cultural nuances. It’s about finding that sweet spot; it’s a constant endeavour.

We work with Ogilvy in many markets. But in all honesty, we try and find the best agency in each market. The intention, therefore, is that when we have regional or global partnerships, we definitely give those partners room an opportunity to present and pitch for our business. But it's not as though the business would come to them just because of the global or regional partnership.

As a marketer, how are you thinking about purpose marketing for the brand?

Pizza is very egalitarian. A pizza has eight slices, and all those eight slices are the same size. So our purpose, really, goes beyond our love for pizza. It’s about offering an equal slice to everyone. And we believe it's a good time to be looking at doing that, given all the inequality and uncertainties. So an equal size for everyone is an important purpose besides existing for the love of pizza, right?

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