How Pizza Hut answered the Call of Duty for online gaming

Tapping new chat features enables QSR brand to up the ante on digital consumer engagement

The rapid evolution of virtual experiences has created many new ways for people to socialise when physically separated. But this emerging behaviour is creating challenges for marketers whose brands are built around a physical product not readily sharable in an online world.

As a brand originally built around the social setting of family restaurants and the dinner table, Pizza Hut has been constantly striving to find ways to strengthen its relevance in this online world. According to director of marketing and digital for Pizza Hut Australia, Simon Stocks, the fact shared occasions are increasingly happening virtually means sharing the same physical product is not as straightforward as it used to be.

“While a lot of this is down to tech opening up opportunities that weren't previously available due to physical restrictions, such as distance, a huge population are actively choosing to spend their time socialising online and notably via the gaming world," Stocks tells CMO.

So when the makers of the popular combat game, Call of Duty (CoD), introduced a feature into the open-world version allowing players to chat with each other within the game, the team at global brand and customer experience agency, VMLY&R, saw an opportunity for Pizza Hut to engage with the CoD community and have some fun at the same time.

VMLY&R group executive creative director for Sydney and Melbourne, Jake Barrow, says the introduction of Proximity Chat meant for the first time, players of CoD’s open world, Warzone, could talk to anyone else who was within close proximity to them in the game.

"With Pizza Hut in mind, our thought was simple: Why couldn’t someone place an order in game?" Barrow says.

The result was Pizza Hunt, which placed Pizza Hut representatives into the CoD Warzone game environment. Any players who found one of these delivery people could then order free pizza to be delivered to their home.

VMLY&R utilised Pizza Hut's existing gaming team, Hut Games, and placed four gaming streamers into CoD Warzone to play the part of the delivery people in the game. From there, Barrow says it was a matter of reaching out to players.

“Firstly, our streamers were already talking about the promotion on their Twitch and Facebook live streams, so people would find out about it that way. But then at the start of each game, they would message the lobby so all players would know how to take part in the Pizza Hunt,” Barrow says. “Then if they found us in game and were within close enough proximity to use the new chat feature, we’d simply ask them to place an order. We’d reach out privately, so they get their pizza.”

Measures of marketing success

Barrow says the success of the campaign wasn’t just confined to giving out pizzas to individual players.

“It was as much about showing the Pizza Hut brand adding to gaming culture to the streaming audiences who tuned in to watch,” he says. “By both measures, it was successful. We had 400 pizzas to give away on the opening weekend and with the success of this Pizza Hunt we’re looking to reactivate in 2023.

Barrow says a key success factor was the VMLY&R team's own close proximity to the gamer community.

“That’s how this idea came about – creative people being in-tune with the Call of Duty community and knowing about the launch of the Proximity Chat feature,” he says. “The gaming space is constantly evolving. If you spend too much time planning out your ‘big campaign’, the culture might change and you’ll miss your opportunity.”

He cautions, however, the level of dedication many gamers bring to their gaming sessions means brands need to be respectful in how they insert themselves.

“This is a sacred space,” Barrow comments. “It’s not the same as paying for a 30-second TVC. You can’t interrupt the action and expect to be loved – you have to offer something in return or add to the culture.

“In this instance, we understood the audience and knew this would be seen as something fun, with a nice little reward. CoD players can participate in really long gaming sessions, so something like this was seen as a bit of a break or highlight.

“That’s the power of a great idea. You can’t just be a logo inserting yourself into this culture, you have to be more genuine and help drive it.

According to Stocks, Pizza Hut's existing organic association with the gamer community meant entering directly into their world was a relevant opportunity.

“Gaming and e-sports have been on our cards for a while, but the move needed to be authentic and also meaningful beyond an ad placement,” Stocks says. “We created the Hut Games to support an ever-growing gaming community and to provide competitive and commercial opportunities for this region. Everything is managed authentically internally, by gamers, for gamers."

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