Kids these days get omnipresent sushi and organic burritos. Pretty cool. But anyone 30 or over remembers something almost as great: peak Pizza Hut, the era when visiting the red roof was a great American pastime.
I have fond memories of gorging on Pizza Hut’s Book-It!-approved literature just to stuff my face with pan pizza, Cub Scout excursions bringing me into the Hut’s kitchen like a tubby little VIP to make my own pie, the otherworldly Back to the Future II sunglasses promotion, and yes, that steadfast logo that had been in use from 1967 to 1999, long since replaced by something that looks like it was drawn in a swirl of red sauce.
Well, good news, friends. The most famous of all Pizza Hut logos is back. After the vintage logo received a slight face-lift from creative agency GSD&M, Pizza Hut’s parent company Yum Brands! is bringing the red hut back for various promotions. Notably, however, it’s not outright replacing the logo that’s been in use since 2014. “While our classic, red roof logo will begin to appear more frequently, we plan to use our red swirl logo and classic logo interchangeably,” chief brand officer Marianne Radley tells Fast Company.
The brand throwback comes at an important time. Pizza Hut has been struggling to compete with a resurgent Domino’s in the $41 billion quick pizza market. Domino’s has been on the upswing after reformulating its terrible pizza in 2010 to something more palatable, and then embracing digital platforms and rewards over the past few years. In 2018, it unseated Pizza Hut as the world’s largest pizza chain. Branding-wise, Domino’s has positioned itself as the ultimate everyman. It hates potholes as much as you do, and takes gross-looking Instagram photos, too.
Pizza Hut, meanwhile, has tried to update its identity to something worldly and seemingly gourmet, and this year, it reformulated its signature pan pizza and introduced a new physical pan nationwide to make the pizzas bake better. But Pizza Hut has felt in brand limbo since it introduced the new logo in 2014. While its Modernist Cuisine photography and website UI were stronger than ever, that pizza sauce logo lacked the high-contrast punch of solid black letters and a strong red roof. It looks passive. Worse, it looks like a second-place pizza company.
“We conducted qualitative research with more than 3,000 consumers, and one consistent piece of feedback we got was that customers still consider Pizza Hut America’s Original Pizza Company. So we decided it was time to really embrace our heritage,” says Radley. It’s “celebrating a time period where Pizza Hut unequivocally reigned supreme, because that’s where our future is headed.”
Translation: Pizza Hut wants to remind the world it’s the OG pizza chain, and was your favorite long before Domino’s introduced those irresistible new cheese sticks. Of course, this is the sort of hair-splitting push for authenticity that brands love to leverage. Technically, Pizza Hut launched before its rivals in 1958, but competition wasn’t far behind. Little Caesar’s opened in 1959, and Domino’s was founded in 1960. The biggest newcomer in modern pizza, Papa John’s, arrived in 1984.
Regardless, Pizza Hut may be onto something by conjuring up its past. Many brands, from Coca-Cola to Levi’s, play up their history to lure and retain loyal customers. It’s the entire business strategy of the new TWA hotel at JFK Airport in New York. The question is whether Pizza Hut’s vintage branding combines with the 2014 branding to confuse customers more than it entices them—no matter how sinfully delicious that new pan pizza is.