Pizza Hut needs to appeal to the new generation of pizza-buying Millennials, and they have a new weapon to do so: It’s a smear of sauce ladled onto a spinning pizza crust. This is Pizza Hut’s new logo, and the fulcrum of the company’s largest-ever branding and marketing campaign spearheaded by Deustch LA—the same agency behind the refresh of fellow Yum! Brands property Taco Bell.
"Any good flavorful pizza starts with a sauce swirl," says Jared Drinkwater, Pizza Hut’s VP of Marketing, in a practiced bit of script. "We want to lay our claim to flavor in our category…[and give ourselves] a makeover signaling a changing flavor for Pizza Hut."
And in addition to the logo, they’ve significantly revamped their menu to attract young customers, adding five new toppings (including premium up-charges like Peruvian cherry peppers), six sauces (like buffalo), 10 crust flavors (like "honey Sriracha" and "ginger boom boom"), and even health-conscious "Skinny Slice" pizzas.
"If you look at the trends in food among young consumers, it’s about flavor exploration," Drinkwater says. "We felt like nobody was doing that in pizza."
It’s not Pizza Hut’s first makeover in recent history. In fact, it’s their logo’s fourth refresh in just 15 years. Drinkwater insists it was a natural brand evolution, but it’s hard to look at the pizza market and not see anything but a middle-aged pizza company trying desperately to adapt to the times, and this bright red logo as their latest sports car in the quest to rekindle the glory days. After all, Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars have all managed to grow their business in the wake of a decade-log pizza recession, but the $5.4 billion market leader Pizza Hut has seen business remain stagnant.
So in 2012, the company announced plans to scale back on many of their iconic red-roofed standalone restaurants while actually expanding their business through an investment in lean, delivery-focused stores.
Amid that exploration, Pizza Hut has a 56 years of brand history to consider. The company's new logo retains a nod to Pizza Hut’s red roof, despite the fact that some of those aging, iconic buildings can sometimes be a detriment to the Pizza Hut brand. Drinkwater insisted that sit-down business was still vita—3,000 of Pizza Hut’s 6,500 restaurants are still devoted to casual eat-in business, he pointed out—and that the company had a lot of brand equity in that roof.
What Pizza Hut did choose to scale back on, however, was all of the company's red. Yes, the logo adopted red as its only color, but almost everything else in their branding—from the website and app to the pizza boxes themselves—swapped red for black. Their once blindingly bright red site will be a cooler, every-fashionable color, as Pizza Hut’s logo and food photography pop off of a charcoal backdrop.
The company says its branding materials point to the dark pizza pan as their inspiration for the aesthetic, but it’s hard not to see a bit of inspiration from the haute dining scene, too: Major books from Alinea, Thomas Keller, and Modernist Cuisine have all featured this starkly vivid photographic staging in recent history.
"I don’t think we’ll ever be haute cuisine; we’re much too mainstream for that," Drinkwater responds, either dodging the question or genuinely surprised at the comparison (my money is that some designer involved is familiar with the haute aesthetic, though). "If you think about the cast iron in the pans in the back of our restaurant, it has that gritty look. And we think, from a design perspective, the food pops really nicely."
Pizza Hut’s new menu and branding will be rolling out over the coming weeks. And when I asked Drinkwater if we should expect this logo to last longer than the previous three, he was confident: "Yup. I think you’ll see this for many, many years to come."