If you're a pizza lover, you'd say that a sizzling hot, fresh pizza sells itself. If you happen to live in southern New England-and be a pizza lover-you'd probably say that everyone knows about Pepe's Pizzeria But Ken Berry, CEO of Pepe's, understands the importance of spreading the word about his company's pizza, even though it's practically got a cult following. Founded by Frank Pepe in New Haven, Connecticut, pizzeria employees still hand-toss every single pizza. "Our pizza really has a heritage," observes Berry. "It goes back 87 years, virtually unchanged during those 87 years." He notes that the company has added refrigerators and air-conditioning, but that's about all. When diners visit the restaurant, they enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of this heritage. "It's a way for people to step back in time," Berry says. The pizza dough is still made fresh daily, and the ingredients come from many of the same sources they did decades ago.
Pepe's has built a loyal following through the years. "People have adopted Pepe's as their own through generations," notes Berry. This word-of-mouth advertising is impossible to buy or replicate, and it helps strengthen the brand. It also represents a challenge, in that these loyal customers arrive at the restaurant with high expectations. If they bring friends or family, they expect those guests to be served a top-notch meal, much as if they were entertaining in their own home. "If you don't deliver on your promise, they'll let you know right away," warns Berry.
When Pepe's co-owners decided to expand from its initial location several years ago, their strategy included replicating every aspect of the Pepe's dining experience-right down to the furniture and uniforms of the wait staff. They wanted customers to walk into the new location in Fairfield, Connecticut, and feel right at home. They didn't anticipate a backlash-a small core of regular New Haven customers who objected to the expansion of their beloved Pepe's. These customers staged a protest outside the new restaurant as it opened to the public. But publicity surrounding the opening of a new Pepe's swelled beyond the protestors-and 200 people showed up to wait in line for their own piece of Pepe's pie. If anything, the buzz surrounding the protest likely attracted more customers to the new location.
Pepe's approach to advertising is pretty straightforward. The pizza sells itself-one bite, and pizza lovers are hooked. So the main objective is to make consumers aware of the restaurant, which now has several locations in the tri-state area surrounding New York City. As the Fairfield restaurant neared its opening date, Pepe's alerted current customers with a simple message printed on top of each pizza box (coincidentally, many of Pepe's regular New Haven diners actually lived in Fairfield). The company also published press releases and advertised the grand opening of the new restaurant. Billboards along the interstate highway proved to be effective with travelers, as did some direct-mail efforts. Pepe's recently ventured into social media with a Facebook page and Twitter account, which Berry refers to as "the new word of mouth." Pepe's posts photos, blurbs about menu items, and relives a few proud moments on Facebook. Customers comment about their favorite pizza flavors (such as spinach and gorgonzola), and share experiences (like driving 50 miles each way for a Pepe's pizza). Berry notes that Pepe's presence in social media keeps the relationships with customers going.
Educating consumers about Pepe's is the second advertising objective. With such a tasty product, what better way to attract new customers than to let them discover that the proof really is in the pie? Now when Pepe's launches a new restaurant, they give away free pizza for about a week before the grand opening. That's right: free pizza, for a week. Ken Berry explains that this promotion serves three purposes: It trains the new employees, tests the new ovens, and introduces Pepe's pizza to new customers. The giveaway generates plenty of good buzz about Pepe's pizzas and makes an important statement to the public: Pepe's is so confident about the quality of its food that they're willing to give it away for a week- certain that consumers will become regular customers.
Pepe's also enjoys positive public relations surrounding its charitable giving. The company website has a tab allowing customers to request donations for their particular charities, and the restaurant conducts regular "Good Neighbors Nights," from which it donates 15 percent of its proceeds to a designated not-for-profit group. All of these efforts roll together into cohesive marketing communications with one major goal. "Our challenge is to build our brand and protect it," says Berry, "and to make sure we deliver every day."
Questions for Critical Thinking
1. Describe how the Pepe's pizza giveaway promotion relates to each step in the AIDA concept.
2. How might Pepe's use guerilla marketing to promote its brand among college students?