What in the world were they thinking, the folks at Edelman and their client Pizza Hut? Were they ever really serious about pulling off a stunt at the Presidential town hall debate Tuesday... a stunt that probably would have offended and annoyed most Americans, regardless of their political leanings toward blue or red.
The fast food chain was planning to offer a lifetime supply of free pizza to anyone in the audience at this week's debate who would ask the candidates if they preferred sausage or pepperoni on top of their pizza.
Fortunately, after hearing lots of negative and incredulous backlash, Pizza Hut had the brains to pull the stunt and instead do an online survey of consumers regarding their topping preferences. Like anyone really cares about toppings.
But people do care about the debates, when the candidates have only 90 precious minutes to explain their views on a wide array of complex and important issues. Had someone in the audience actually shilled for Pizza Hut and asked the question, it would have wasted a minute or possibly more -- time that could have been used letting the candidates air their views on the worldwide economic meltdown or nukes in Iran.
Sure, it would have put the company name in front of 50 or 60 million Americans, but at what cost? Certainly Pizza Hut and its agency is smart enough to disavow that old saw that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Oh, yes there is, and Pizza Hut came close to finding out by being called out by the public and the media and also, possibly, having its stores boycotted by angry consumers who really don't care if President Obama or Gov. Romney have a pizza topping preference.
If the whole idea was a stunt from the beginning, with no real plans to encourage someone to ask the question at the debate, then Pizza Hut looks dumb anyway. And the statement from the company's CMO, as quoted in Advertising Age about changing their plans, sounds out of touch with reality. The statement said that "the 'buzz' around the question -- tens of hundreds of media outlets picked up the story -- proved that the debate was important. 'We're no longer asking a few hundred attendees at the town hall presidential debate on Oct. 16 to pose the question, rather we're bringing the question -- sausage or pepperoni? -- to millions of Americans," the CMO said."
Are you kidding?