Who Wants to Be the Mayor of Pizza Hut?

Pizza Hut Foursquare

Who's the mayor of Pizza Hut? Or, in other words, who has been stuffing their faces with way too much deep dish? We'll soon know.

On Wednesday, Pizza Hut announced a new partnership with Foursquare aimed at giving us more of that doughy-fresh goodness. Devoted customers of the restaurant chain will soon be rewarded with a free order of breadsticks (with the purchase of a large pizza) if they earn the prestigious title of "Mayor"—of their local Pizza Hut franchise.

This isn't the Hut's first foray into the digital marketplace. Last July, it became the first national restaurant chain to launch an iPhone ordering app, which led to around $1 million in sales in just three months. On Facebook, the company has gained more than 1.4 million fans through a tool that enables users to place orders without leaving the social network, and they were also one of the first brands to hire a full-time Twitter guru.

We spoke with Brian Niccol, chief marketing officer of Pizza Hut, to find out why they're joining up with Fourquare now, and who they think will be checking in.

"We're a big brand, so we want to be everywhere," says Niccol. "We need to connect with consumers on their own terms, and those terms are constantly evolving. There's not just one model—you can't say, we're going to do this, and then exclude other new platforms."

Just last week Forrester Research recommended that major brands hold off from the geo-location service until its reach grows larger. But as Foursquare's head of business development told me recently, "If you choose not to [join], another competitor may." And that's exactly what happened to Pizza Hut.

Several months ago, Domino's partnered with Foursquare, and by July, it was reported that the promotion helped increase revenues by 29%, or $26 million, during a pilot project in the U.K. Now, Pizza Hut is making sure it's not playing catch-up in the future.

Being everywhere means experimenting with new services like Foursquare, even if they aren't fully grown yet. While Pizza Hut may have missed the first boat on Foursquare, Niccol says the company is committed to expanding its digital strategy. "The definition of social media is becoming wider and wider," he explains. "Whether it's Twitter, or Hulu, or geo-location with Foursquare, we are trying to tailor content for each of these platforms."

But for services like Foursquare that thrive on daily routines (check-ins at coffee shops, for instance), should brands sign up if they don't connect with consumers frequent basis? After all, how much pizza and breadsticks can we scarf down?

"Clearly, our users don't have the frequency of Starbucks," agrees Niccol. "We're not going to get a to a place where people are eating pizza every day—and they shouldn't do that, as healthy individuals."

"But I do think it's right to reward your loyal customers, and provide an incentive for others to become more loyal," explains the Pizza Hut CMO, who hopes to see a bump in repeat traffic.

I also asked Niccol whether Domino's made a good decision in an ad campaign in which it denigrated the quality of its own pizza. Is such a dramatic act necessary to go viral? "I've seen many successes—Old Spice, for example—a lot of other brands that have been able to talk to the positive side of their brand, and still go viral," he says. "The trick is: Can you talk about your brand in a way that connects with consumers? I don't think that requires denigrating your brand."

Looks like Domino's missed the memo on that one.

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