Hugely successful sado-masochistic stunt nets Hell Pizza and Barnes, Catmur & Friends April’s Ad Impact win

Youtube VideoHell’s Pizza Roulette product innovation received a huge amount of national and international PR coverage when it was launched and led to a massive increase in sales, without discounting. And Barnes, Catmur & Friends’ ad to promote it has added to the accolades by winning the April round of Colmar Brunton’s Ad Impact Award. 

Managing creative partner Paul Catmur says when the Hell team initially got hold of Blair’s 3am sauce, an American-made hot sauce that boasts a Scoville rating of two million, can lead to—as the BC&F-written terms & conditions say—restless leg syndrome, half sneezes, nappy rash and emotional damage, and is 100 times more potent than jalapeno peppers, the plan was simply to sell the hottest pizza in the world. The problem with that idea was that no-one was likely to buy it. So it was refined into more of an appealing proposition, where two drops of the sauce would be put on one random slice of pizza and thus burn the bejesus out of one poor, unknowing sod’s mouth (as the slogan said “it doesn’t cost, but someone pays”), to add in some fun and gamesmanship.

The TVC, which was made by Film Construction, came out after the Pizza Roulette story had gone global and had featured in the New York TimesTIME, Huffington Post, Reddit and on CNN as the basis of a story about developing trends like the cinnamon challenge, so while the early adopters and social media nerds had already found out about it–and often uploaded clips of them partaking—the ad “filled in the gaps” for the ‘normal people’ who may not have known exactly what it entailed.

Catmur says Hell has dabbled in TV with its agency previous partners, but usually with fairly low media weights and low production values. But this ad, which is one of six based around the ‘you might have heard we’ve gone all nice and commercial, but we’re actually still quite nasty’ theme and will show throughout the year (the most recent one involves some nerd-tasering to promote its range of sides), has upped the ante. And so far it’s paying dividends.

Hell director Stu McMullin says the TV push was based around a big qual and quant research project from last year, the first piece of research it has ever done into the brand. The results of that study showed consumers knew about Hell’s brand values, but it needed to promote its sides and, like McDonald’s with its Big Mac or Burger King with its Whopper, it “needed to have something to hang its hat on”, which is where Pizza Roulette stemmed from.

“There’s very little food porn,” he says. “No bouncing tomatoes or mayo being drizzled on lettuce in slow motion. We’re trying to stay away from that and maintain our brand,” he says.

Hell has been behind plenty of outrageous promotional stunts over the years, but he says this has “been the most successful promotion they’ve ever done”. Overall sales during the promotion in March and April were up more than ten percent over the same time last year, a remarkable performance in this still arthritic economy where many fast-food businesses, including its two major price-focused competitors and McDonald’s, are struggling.

Importantly, 17 percent of its customers during that period were new, nine percent of all orders were for Pizza Roulette pizzas, and Friday April 13, which fell smack bang in the middle of the promotion, was the biggest day of sales in Hell’s history, with some shops having to stop taking orders for the first time ever. By adding an element of luck into its food, the game also helped shortened the amount of time between purchase. So rather than getting new customers by lowering prices (the lowest it goes is $13 on Black Fridays and, unusually, three Black Fridays fall in 2012), he says its approach is to get new customers and maintain the higher price point through innovation and savvy branding.

“This Hell Pizza ad wins consumers over with its tongue in cheek humour, creating a strong impact for the brand and a point of difference that has great talkability,” says Harriet Dixon, senior account manager at Colmar Brunton. 

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Youtube VideoDixon says other ads performing strongly in April were State and Colenso’s musical epic ‘Break My Stride’, which “is particularly distinctive and stands out from other ads”, and Mitre 10 and DraftFCB’s ‘Easy As’, which brings DIY tips into the home via their website and “is driving a strong response with consumers”.


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