The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

October 10, 2012

Could pepperoni spoil presidential debate?

(Continued)

But such moments don't always end well. During Obama's 2009 State of the Union address, for instance, South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson yelled out "You lie, you lie." Wilson quickly apologized but was widely criticized by members of both parties for the breach of decorum.

"I think people are frustrated with the political process, but they don't want it to become a zoo," said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates in New York.

It can be even more difficult for marketers to get away with such outbursts. While companies long have used hot political topics to gain publicity for their brands, it can backfire. For example, there was backlash in February 2011 when Kenneth Cole compared the Arab Spring uprisings to a frenzy over the U.S. designer's spring collection. The company later apologized.

"Context really matters," said Deborah Mitchell, Clinical Professor of Marketing at Ohio State University. "Political satire is fine if it's in the context of where people are expecting it. When context is violated that's when you run into trouble."

Even if Pizza Hut's stunt doesn't turn off viewers, Laura Ries, president of Atlanta-based brand strategy firm Ries and Ries, said it still will likely fail. That's because it does not substantially connect back to the Pizza Hut brand.

"The problem is that it's too contrived; it's completely made up," she said. "For something to move past silly gimmick and become more successful brand connection, it does have to have some sort of relevance."

To its critics, Pizza Hut, a unit of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands Inc., said there is room for both serious and lighthearted questions in the debate, which will be broadcast on most network and cable news stations.

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