How Pizza Hut gave away 10,000 pizzas in 70 seconds

Pizza Hut chief marketing officer details the tech, digital and brand efforts that led to a rapid-fire pizza giveaway

A digital transformation overhaul and collaboration between CMO, CIO and operations proved the driving forces behind a highly successful 50th anniversary marketing activation for the team at Pizza Hut Australia.  

Pizza Hut chief marketing officer, Chet Patel, told CMO the QSR business had its sights set firmly on improving digital capabilities when it was acquired by Allegro Funds in 2016 as part of a long-term business turnaround plan. Yet by 2018, when the new Pizza Hut leadership team came in, it was clear the technology infrastructure in place wasn’t scalable or future-proof enough to deliver on these ambitions.  

A partnership with AWS was instrumental to helping Pizza Hut build out a scalable and resilient cloud platform and solution that would get it back into a competitive situation and trigger more innovative, personalised experiences. These, in turn would help turn a nostalgic emotional connection with the brand to “a love affair”, Patel said.  

“The whole QSR industry had been very digital disrupted by really quick and innovative technologies, and digital had become the most important channel,” Patel explained.  

“The competitive situation was moving fast, so we needed to change our digital systems to meet demand.  

“Fast forward to COVID, and we became even more reliant on digital, as personal customer experiences and efficient delivery became even more critical.”    

Alongside technology, what’s vital is marketers collaborating cross-functionally. “Myself as CMO, the CIO and our COO are tied into a collaborative effort that’s always about delighting the customer,” Patel continued.  

“The infrastructure then needs to provide that seamlessness and be as streamlined as much as possible. Marketing will create that demand - we have to be unstoppable at creating mass demand at any given time. The tech infrastructure has to build and fulfil that demand and provide the UX for that experience. The operations team and our franchises have to fulfil and manage demand.”  

50 years and free pizza  

Having got its technology ducks in order, the infrastructure was truly put the test in 2020 as part of Pizza Hut’s plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of opening its first Australian store in Belfield, NSW.  

“One main aspect of the brand turnaround is how we rekindle the love affair with Pizza Hut. That meant going back to what we stood for and what made us so special. There was such a strong emotional connection with Pizza Hut, it’s extended through generations,” Patel said.    

“Fortuitously, in 2020, we were at a point in the turnaround program where we were making significant progress. So we started planning a big anniversary year to celebrate the brand being in Australia for 50 years.”  

Chet patel (Left) with Pizza Hut CEO, Phil ReedCredit: Pizza hut
Chet patel (Left) with Pizza Hut CEO, Phil Reed


Yet as the global pandemic hit, Patel’s team plan had to shift. “We were always going to giveaway pizzas, and put emphasis on our core product, the pan pizza,” he said. “My aim was for everyone in Australia to take a bite of our super supreme pizza and fall back in love with the brand.  

“We were going to use our website and unlock a giveaway giving customers 10,000 pizzas every day for five days. The original plan was to have people ordering online, then have them race to the stores to pick up their free pizza, which would create crowds, attention, be disruptive and provide a real buzz.  

“Then COVID hit, and we knew we couldn’t encourage crowds or mass gatherings out the front of our stores and disrupt operations.”  

Patel went to his CIO counterpart and asked whether the new cloud-based infrastructure and load capability could handle making 10,000 vouchers available for two hours, across five days, as a pure online proposition. This meant pushing the online promo, triggering email-based vouchers to customers who submitted their details, and unlocking 10,000 codes between 4pm and 6pm to create hype.  

Supporting the plans were a good amount of PR and a countdown clock on the Pizza Hut website counting down to the 4pm giveaway. “In advance of the 4pm deadline, we could see people on the site in the back-end, queuing up to be ready. Bang on 4pm, vouchers were available, and customers could put in their details to spit out a voucher via email. That seemed a good start,” Patel said.    

But no one on the team was prepared for the live demand. As the clock hit 4pm, 10,000 vouchers were given away in just 70 seconds, with 13,000 transactions conducted in a single minute.  

“We couldn’t believe our eyes… We had 30,00 API requests in that time, supported by AWS. By 4.01pm it was finished,” Patel said. “We had 100,000s of people using the site and AWS handled that load. And it happened every day, getting faster, for five days.”  

As Patel pointed out, the day one giveaway was faster than Beyonce’s 2013 concert ticket sales as well as selling out the Coachella event.  

“That gave us confidence in the system and showed Allegro the investment and trust in infrastructure was valid. It showed us we were on to a stable platform that could handle these activities,” Patel said. “That has allowed us to try and break the system and for me challenge the CIO on how far the system can go.  

“For me and my team, as we put ideas, campaigns or activations together we know we have capability to meet the demand those will create.”  

According to Patel, Pizza Hut’s tech infrastructure works like a bolt-on system, with a platform that can scale as and when it needs to. The next stage of work sees the team working on omnichannel integration and personalisation.  

The organisation has also tapped into industry best practice around website design to ensure the front-end experience is user-friendly and seamless for customers. This has included leveraging designs and best practices created by the Yum business, then optimising to suit Pizza Hut’s specific needs.    

"Cloud technology has transformed the hospitality industry by opening up opportunities for organisations to harness data and analytics to better understand customers, machine learning to drive personalisation, and compute services to deliver seamless experiences for customers," AWS director of enterprise, A/NZ, Karl Durrance, said. "It’s particularly exciting to see marketers embrace the benefits of cloud to serve customers with more relevant information and rapidly scale up campaign activity in-market.”

As well as the technical capability to support long-term business growth, Patel is spearheading a digital-led approach from the whole marketing function. “Gone are the days when you had digital marketing and then marketing. It’s one team sport and approach,” he said.  

“We haven’t been on TV for 18 months - it’s all digital, performance marketing. All our marketers focus on this as opposed to us saying we have digital marketers or specialists. That way we market is increasingly one-to-one, always looking to personalisation and CX right from outset through to in-store and online.”  

Long-term brand plan  

As a CMO, Patel said the Pizza Hut brand is much more mature than when he joined three years ago. The business is now the fastest growing QSR in Australia and has been so for the last four quarters.  

“It’s about maintaining that momentum, protecting the brand and modernising experience,” he said. “We are 50 years old, but I want to set up brand for the next 50 years and modernise for that. I’m planning for the next generation.  

“The advantage for us is having a very strong, emotional brand. Our vision is to make it easier for more Australians to share good times. That goes into the technology and the experience. For example, I question I ask our CIO is if every one of his initiatives is going to make it easier to share in good times. Or with operations, is it helping more Australians share those good times.”  

It’s also about creating a real sense of belonging. To do this, Patel flagged longer-term plans around building loyalty and membership offerings. The first step, however, had to be building long-term sustainable foundations through core product and delivery propositions.  

In this vein, Pizza Hut recently brought to market a new chicken wings range, WingStreet, has introduced pasta products, and is focused on building out its core value proposition. It’s also brought iconic advertising character, Dougie, back into creative and communications. And Patel said Dougie will continue to turn up as the brand evolves.  

“It’s those long-term strategies that are what are needed for our turnaround and long-term growth,” Patel added. “Over the next 12-18 months, the whole approach will be a one-to-one relationship with brand, rather than one-to-all. That personalisation will help us both on that emotional connection with the brand into a love affair.”  

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