Efforts to ban cheese lands Toppers delivery guy in jail

Leveraging the buzz around the NFC Championship, a Wisconsin pizza joint uses a fun and innovative campaign to boost sales 10%.

Client: Toppers Pizza (Whitewater, Wisconsin)
Agency: Hiebing (Madison, Wisconsin)
Campaign: #LegalizeCheese
Duration: January 16 -18, 2015
Budget: $10,000

On January 16, the Friday before the NFC Championship between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, city manager of Bainbridge Island, Washington, Doug Schulze issued a cheese ban. The move delighted Seahawks’ fans, irked Packers’ fans, and quickly ignited online.

Toppers Pizza, which has about 35 locations in Wisconsin, and its AOR Hiebing quickly launched a very clever social media giveaway pegged to the idea of legalizing cheese.

"Collaboratively, Hiebing and our internal creative team saw an opportunity to capitalize on the timeliness of the Seattle cheese ban and our fans’ two biggest passions – the Packers and pizza – to raise awareness and drive sales," says Toppers’ CEO and founder Scott Gittrich.

A mugshot of a Toppers delivery driver incarcerated for bringing cheese into Bainbridge Island grabbed the attention of the brand’s social media audience. Coupons for free pizza were tied to fan use of hashtag #LegalizeCheese. 

Media relations helped drive coverage of the campaign and the offer.

"One of our big initiatives for 2015 is to seize really buzzworthy social media opportunities," explains Dana Arnold, the agency’s PR and social media director. "This one was right up our alley – it was completely fitting that Toppers would be beside itself that someone would even think of banning cheese, and we knew our fans would love the ‘legalize cheese’ idea. Toppers has a great, edgy brand voice so we could engage in fantastic banter with fans."

The mugshot was posted to Facebook (facebook.com/ToppersRocks) and Twitter (twitter.com/ToppersPizza) late in the day on January 16.

About an hour later, the team posted the call for Facebook fans to posted photos of themselves with a #LegalizeCheese sign by 5:00 p.m. the following day to win a free large one-topping pizza. Twitter followers just had to post a message with the hashtag.

Everyone who posted won a coupon, and Arnold says the agency team promptly posted a fun, edgy response to all participants.

Arnold notes the campaign had so much traction that the team extended the deadline to post until 6:30 p.m. on Sunday (which was when the NFC game ended).

A press release with the photo and giveaway details was issued late Friday afternoon to all traditional media outlets that had covered the cheese ban, select sports outlets, and national morning and late-night TV shows.

Gittrich reports sales January 16 through 18 across all 67 restaurants increased 9% over the same days in 2014 – triple the 3% goal. 

The campaign generated 508 posts with the #LegalizeCheese hashtag in a little more than 48 hours (the goal was 300).

"In a given week Toppers gets a couple of dozen proactive fan posts on Facebook and Twitter, so this was a huge jump in engagement," Arnold says.

One hundred sixteen earned stories ran in outlets including Good Morning America, Buzzfeed, and most major TV and print outlets in Wisconsin.

A new overall marketing campaign that focuses on points of differentiation kicked off in February.

Social media specific plans include ramping up Toppers’ Instagram presence.

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