Remember Book It!? Behind Pizza Hut’s Campaign Focused on Kids and Reading

Dec 4, 2018

Long before stuffed crust pizza and cheesy breadsticks, Pizza Hut introduced a program kids of the 80s and 90s will never forget.

With concerns rising about the quality of American education at the time, President Ronald Reagan challenged businesses to come up with creative ways to engage students academically. Arthur Gunther, Pizza Hut’s then-president, took this challenge to heart (and stomach).

Early in his life, Gunther’s son struggled with reading because of some eye problems he had. So the pizza mogul dreamt up a program to encourage children to read more books. Book It! was born.

Read books, get pizza

The program rewarded students with certificates, stickers, buttons and single-topping personal pan pizzas just for reading books. Days after its 1985 launch, the program was a nationwide phenomenon with 7 million children participating. By 2014, more than 14 million students across 620,000 classrooms were part of the Book It! family.

Many of the original participants of the program, affectionately named “Book It! Kids,” are still huge fans of the program today. They’ve written love letters and shared photos on social media of their children embarking on their own Book It! journeys.

Sustaining success with nostalgia marketing

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Pizza Hut started a Book It! Alumni program in which the program’s earliest participants could receive new coupons to their local Pizza Hut.

The reboot was a huge success, and Pizza Hut proved the power of nostalgia as a marketing tool. It also demonstrated the power of picking a cause important to a company’s culture and one that comes from the heart. By sharing his son’s struggles with the world and genuinely wanting to do something about it, Gunther was able to connect with his customers in a whole new way and give them a worthy cause to rally behind.

Long story short: Sometimes, the most effective marketing campaigns come from the heart. Tapping into a little nostalgia can be a great way to tie together your brand with customers’ fond memories.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Caitlin Gemmi.

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