pizza hutPizza Hut Falls Flat with PR Pie Promotion: Following Negative Social Backlash, Company Cancels Its Order On Debate Stunt

Pizza Hut‘s PR buzz wore off in dramatic fashion following a wave of negative publicity via social media and blogs about its planned presidential-debate stunt.

The chain’s “free pizza for life” promotion, initially offered to the person who would dare to ask the candidates what they liked on their pizza during last night’s debate, started off winningly enough last week thanks to its publicity-rich gimmicky novelty, but once the disruptive element of the stunt sank in and caused a social uproar, the restaurant quickly changed its order.

“Some of the attention we received was not positive,” conceded the company’s chief marketing officer Kurt Kane. “So, we decided the question was better served online than in the debate itself,” he added, USA Today reports. So instead, Pizza Hut asked consumers to go online to discuss the pizza-topping question — and stopped urging debate-goers to ask the question.

PR and brand experts say Pizza Hut created its own PR mess. “What a stupid idea,” said Peter Madden, CEO of AgileCat, a brand consultancy. “It just seems like a thoughtless grab for a little bit of attention,” he added, USA Today reports.

One publicist is incredulous at the stunt. “Is this really what we want our candidates to be talking about?” said Katharine D. Paine, president of KDPaine & Partners. “Why muck up a serious debate with silly questions?,” she posited, reports USA Today writer Bruce Horovitz.

Pizza Hut said it would randomly choose one consumer who voted on the sausage vs. pepperoni topic on its site on Tuesday and reward them. If Pizza Hut could have rewritten the debate question to pose to the candidates, Kane says, he’d have nixed the sausage vs. pepperoni question for this one: “How are you going to make it great for Americans — like Pizza Hut does?,” he said, the article reports.