Marketing, too-literal branding by &pizza being taken seriously, but ad is just an ad
The &pizza chain may have won the yearlong regulatory war for a space in Harvard Square, but neighborhood group resistance hasn’t gone away. Now it’s a short video for the Washington, D.C.-based eatery and a couple of guerrilla-style marketing tactics shown in it – stickering and spray painting of the ampersand logo – that has members of the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association agitated.
Members were already freaked out that employees were getting the ampersand logo as a permanent tattoo and were referred to as “tribe” members, which seemed to some racial and smacking of colonialism. With an early boost from Cambridge’s Jim Braude on WGBH news, they launched a small Change.org petition to try to change the behavior. (The first 22 customers in line at a just-opening New York location would also be offered a year of free pizza if they got the ampersand tattoo, Thrillist reported.)
In sharing the &pizza marketing video via social media, neighborhood association founder Suzanne Blier called it “problematic” and potentially “promoting fear and resentment towards black men as ‘radical identity’ proponents” and urged people to sign an updated petition and to tell the company leadership they “MUST stop this kind of deeply pejorative, racially charged attacks and promos.” In responding, a couple of people called the video “really disturbing” and “horrible,” with “an undercurrent glorifying drug use right down to the exposed inner [forearm] and clenched fist while the voiceover says ‘go all the way.’ This is soooooo objectionable in the midst of a heroin epidemic.”
“What will happen if one of the ‘tribe’ as they call it, get arrested for vandalism? Will &pizza’s CEO [Michael] Lastoria bail them out?” the updated petition asks, referring to the guerrilla marketing techniques shown in the video.
&pizza was asked for comment.
First, the spray painting seen in the video is chalk paint – it washes off with water, said Rachel Van Dolsen, a Brooklyn publicist that works with &pizza.
Second, “the video was in fact just that, a video,” Van Dolsen said. “Nothing in the video was meant to be taken out of context or suggest that this is how we intend to launch &pizza in Cambridge.”
And what about it? The one Cambridge people are responding to is the 78-second “director’s cut” of a 30-second commercial by Nathan Tobias:
Again, this is an ad for a pizza place. It’s like literally countless pizza places around the country, except that it’s trying to set itself apart with branding. And that branding goes loud and fast and melodramatically, if not into the entirely nonsensical, as standing for “walking to your own beat, propelling ourselves forward, making our own noise” and believing in “individuality, community, unity, oneness and creativity,” while the pretentious voiceover in the director’s cut urges watchers, “If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling than that. It’s the only good fight there is. Do it. Do it. Do it. All the way.”
This is pizza for unique, world-changing individuals with power and style and an endless supply of cool, including the ones dumb enough to select their pizza based on tired marketing clichés.
This, truly, is pizza to the extreme – meaning this, truly, is the Poochiefication of pizza, doing for cheap carbs what the Poochie episode of “The Simpsons” did for recycling, except without irony:
We conducted an informal focus group for the video among twenty-somethings who are the ostensible market for it and the product – some of whom even knew that &pizza and its attached Milk Bar bakery were coming to Harvard Square and were excited by it. They were perplexed and put off. At least a couple of people didn’t understand they’d just watched an ad for pizza. “It was a lot,” said one, an arch way of saying it was too much. “Why didn’t they just show us the pizza?” asked another.
The video wouldn’t convince them to eat &pizza. It didn’t make them less interested in trying &pizza.
But &pizza is just another pizza. And this was just another ad.
This post was updated Oct. 9, 2017, t0 reflect that Our Harvard Square/the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association had an update to their petition rather than a second petition.