What happened when Villa Italian Kitchen jumped on the gender reveal bandwagon

The quick service restaurant franchise wanted to make a splash to promote its new catering platform.

Company: Villa Italian Kitchen
Campaign: Gender Reveal Lasagna
Agency mix: BML Public Relations (PR, media relations, and social media), in-house (research and development)
Duration: January 2019

Quick service pizza franchise Villa Italian Kitchen made waves last month when it hopped aboard the increasingly elaborate gender reveal train. Stuffed with pale blue or pink cheese filling, its Gender Reveal Lasagna Catering Package blew up on social media, fueling frenzied media coverage.

To promote its new catering platform, Villa Italian Kitchen, which has 260 locations nationwide, was looking for a campaign that would break through the noisy news cycle and help it stand out from the competition. The company tasked its long-time PR agency BML Public Relations to, in the words of BML president and CEO Brian Lowe, "come up with something fun that will resonate and get some chatter going."

Knowing that the catering platform would launch in late January, brainstorming for the campaign began last summer. BML quickly settled on the gender reveal concept, an area where one-upmanship and over-the-top stunts increasingly rule the day (or at least the internet).

"We were looking to make a splash," Lowe said.

The first step was making sure a gender reveal lasagna was possible, which meant getting Villa Italian Kitchen’s research and development team involved. The central challenge: ensuring that the dyed cheese wouldn’t bubble up, ruining the surprise. The meal package comes with specific heating instructions.

"We also wanted the colors to be vibrant and really pop," Lowe said.

In the end, the R&D team went through three or four iterations. The final recipe used Alfredo sauce instead of the typical tomato sauce to ensure vibrancy.  

The catering platform, which features the "gender reveal package," launched on January 22, at which point BML sent out a press release to media outlets.

"Within 12 minutes our inboxes and phones were going bananas," Lowe said.

At first, most of the social activity was coming from journalists and editors tweeting about the pitch. Within a few hours, the lasagna was trending on Twitter.

It’s important, when pulling off PR stunts like this one, to ensure the product is actually available and searchable.

People immediately think, "Is this real?" Loew said, and check out the company’s website and social feeds. "So we always make sure we are launching things in tandem."

The Gender Reveal Lasagna meal package feeds 12, comes with garlic rolls and salad, and costs $140.

The campaign was a fire that "burned fast and furious," said Lowe. After trending on Twitter, the Gender Reveal Lasagna was picked up by outlets from People to New York Magazine to NBC. The campaign has generated 915 earned media placements, across broadcast, print, digital, and newsletters.

"We saw hits from outlets all over the world," Lowe said. "My cousin in Ireland heard it on the radio over there."

And what of the negative reactions the pink and blue lasagna generated? One outlet went as far as describing the promotional photo as a "cursed image."

"While it’s not for everyone, it certainly has provided solid engagement and has people talking about the brand," Lowe said.

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