Toppers Pizza has debuted its first TV commercials in the chain’s 21-year history, completing its “three-screen” advertising strategy after years of laying the groundwork in social media and mobile ordering.
The 42-unit brand’s first foray into television advertising represents a significant shift in its marketing spending, though its overall marketing budget remains unchanged, said vice president of marketing Scott Iversen. Over the past two years, the chain has transitioned away from print ads and direct mail to free up money to invest in producing TV commercials and buying time in their markets.
“For us to target the 18-to-34-year-old demographic the way we do, print advertising is dying slowly but surely a little more every day,” Iversen said. “Our audience’s media habits are changing, and it’s harder to reach them with print ads than it was two years ago.”
Toppers produced two 30-second commercials, “Waterslide” and “Angry Girlfriend,” which play off the brand’s irreverent, man-focused marketing persona.
In the former, a group of men execute a “waterslide taste test” by strapping a pizza to their friend, who slides down a hillside in an attempt to hit a ramp and land in a kiddie pool, all in a stunt resembling something out of the TV show “Jackass.” The stunt fails and the would-be daredevil knocks himself unconscious, but the pizza is judged to still be delicious.
In the latter, the “angry girlfriend taste test” consists of an angry girlfriend berating a pizza for staying out too late and partying. When she is restrained and carried off, the guy and his friends check to see how the pizza held up — and deem it "still delicious."
The commercials are running in about 90 percent of Whitewater, Wis.-based Toppers’ markets, which include Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Nebraska and Texas, Iversen said. He added that TV’s greater reach likely would multiply awareness of the chain in those markets, especially the newer ones farther out from its Midwestern base.
The move toward TV is also a play for market share from the pizza segment’s major national players. “It’s all about capitalizing on stealing market share from our largest competitors,” Iversen said. “When we were advertising with direct mail and print in the prior five years, it only impacted people in our immediate trade areas and delivery zones. Now we’re able to reach a much higher percentage of our target in a given area, and this raises awareness to people who might not know we’re even there.”
Toppers will also be able to isolate the effect of TV advertising on the brand’s same-store sales and guest counts, since it has shifted marketing spending toward that tactic without putting in any incremental dollars to the overall marketing fund, he said. That benefit may not appear overnight, he added, because a direct-mail coupon conveys a greater sense of urgency to customers, but Toppers is still confident that TV commercials will pay off far more in the long run.
“It’s a longer-term investment because the difference with TV and electronic advertising is that it plants a seed and develops over time,” Iversen said. “You’re in that consideration set when somebody decides to go get pizza next time, compared with direct mail, which is a more immediate, take-action vehicle.”