Pizza Hut Promotions
In the days before retailers and restaurants could just give you a 7 digit code to enter on their website for access to “awesome content”, they actually had to deliver the goods in a physical form on a regular basis. These monthly promotions were most often tied to the hottest movies or TV shows, causing children nationwide to beg their parents for a trip to that store so they could get the plastic representations of their favorite characters. One of the best at pandering to the desires of the couch potato kids of the early 90’s was the Noid’s arch-enemy (or would he technically be considered an ally?), Pizza Hut.
When it came to those delicious discs of sauce, meat and cheese, Pizza Hut was always my go-to source. Though this may have had to do with location as much as the food (Domino’s was on the other end of town, while I could walk to “the Hut” in 5 minutes), they also had the best selection of video games. In fact, it was while waiting for our number to be called for a Bigfoot pizza, that I first laid eyes on the machine that defined a decade, Street Fighter II. A case could be made that the EXTREME nature of Mortal Kombat gives Raiden a leg-up over Ryu as to best representing the attitude of the 90’s, but we’re here to talk about “pizza prizes” so let’s save that debate for another day.
One of the first promos I remember Pizza Hut running to grab the attention of the younger set was for Don Bluth’s most enduring film (seriously how many have they made at this point?) The Land Before Time. Frankly, this movie was not in my wheelhouse, as I was more a fan of An American Tail and the animated sequence from Xanadu, which I’m sure I stand alone in my admiration of. But I can’t deny that there was something desirable about the rubber dino-puppets you could buy along with your delicious cheese pizza (shout out to Kevin McAllister from Home Alone).
The attention to detail on the sculpting of the puppets is what was most impressive to me. Not that I cared about Little Foot or Petrie (though pterodactyls were tops to 7 year old me), but the fact that the toys looked just like the characters in the movie posters definitely got my attention. Pizza Hut actually continued this trend of puppets creations for other kiddie properties such as Nickelodeon’s Eureka’s Castle and the pretty much forgotten Casper film starring a post Addam’s Family, Cristina Ricci. Again, none of those really made me pine for pepperoni the way this next promotion did.
The Rocketeer film suffered the same fate as the comic book, fondly remembered for its visuals but never gaining a foothold in the world of mainstream pop culture. I personally thought the movie was awesome and it regularly found its way into our VCR, but a lot my familiarity with the character had to do with my friend’s dad making it his personal mission to own every bit of merchandise. He had helmets filled with candy, those goofy BendEms figures and of course, the comics. So when Pizza Hut decided to help Disney out by offering The Rocketeer pizza pack, I was excited to start a collection of my own.
They didn’t go so far as to give us a hollowed out Timothy Dalton as a Nazi spy puppet or Jennifer Connolly make-up kit, but they did offer a really cool collector’s cup in the shape of Ol’ Cliff’s handy head gear. It was a real sturdy piece of work and way better than the Icee collector’s cups I used to get at K-Mart with baseball players on ‘em (although where else could you get cheap Bravestarr merch back in the day?). You also got a Rocketeer glider with your personal pan pizza, but it was pretty lame as fast food toys go. My rule was always, if you can get it in the 10 ticket bin at Chuck E. Cheese’s, it’s not worth crap. As proof of this, I do remember getting this Kid’s Meal Deal one afternoon and holding onto the cup for many years after, but the glider was instantly discarded due to “some assembly required”.
Sticking in the realm of super heroes and in conjunction with the Fox Kids animated series, the X-Men invasion of Pizza Hut was a major leap forward in pizza adjacent merchandising. The same friend’s dad that had an obsession with The Rocketeer had also recently introduced me to the world of comic books, so although they missed out by not offering x-shaped breadsticks, this promotion was the a case of perfect timing. Not only could you get one of 4 collector’s cups with a mini-comic, for an extra fee you could purchase VHS tapes of the cartoon with a trading card!
Talk about pleasure overload, I remember conning my parent’s into 2 trips and getting a video with comic each time. The coolest part was the bonus round table discussion with comic creators and artists like Stan Lee and Jim Lee (no relation). At this time in my life the X-Men ruled the playground, Saturday mornings and now, my stomach, but if there was one promotion that has had the longest lasting effect on me, it’s was courtesy of 4 teens who were as synonymous with pizza in the early 90’s as Michael Jordan was with Basketball.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had pretty much conquered every part of children’s merchandising by 1990, from toys to games and movies, so I guess the next logical step had to be the world of pop music. In an arena tour actually sponsored by Pizza Hut, live action turtles in rhinestone jean vests danced around to the sounds of their first (and only?) album titled Coming Out of Their Shells. The cassette was available exclusively at Pizza Hut restaurants to the world at large and I had to have it for my Walkman.
At this point, the only albums I owned were by Weird Al Yankovic and the New Kids on the Block who I took 100% seriously as artists, so you better believe I was primed to love the TMNT. From the funk-rock of “Walk Straight” to the surf-rap of “Cowabunga”, I memorized the lyrics to every song on the album and proudly sang along with my heroes in a half shell. For its time, the music production wasn’t half-bad, if they switched out a few turtle-centric lyrics and put them on a Bon Jovi album, they probably could have gotten some radio airplay. No I never actually saw the live show and did not purchase the tour book that was also available for purchase at Pizza Hut locations, but I didn’t really feel the need because for me it was all about the music.
Although to enhance the experience I did buy the Making of the Coming Out of Their Shells VHS tape, just to see how the music was made. I was totally on board with the fantasy that the Turtles were actually sitting down and writing tunes and in this mockumentary they had interviews featuring the animatronic turtles talking about their musical inspiration. It’s no wonder I count This is Spinal Tap among my favorite films, this often revisited video set the stage perfectly for that style of parody. I still know all the songs by heart and enjoy them about 95% non-ironically to this day. I actually had to buy a replacement because I literally broke the cassette from playing it over and over again.
Pizza Hut really got my attention during this period of time and certainly sold a few more pizzas thanks to aligning themselves with my favorite TV personalities. But the best part was having something you could hold in your hands to remember that moment when it all meant so much to you. I can still grab my TMNT cassette or X-Men videos and be whisked away to those exhilarating moments of childhood, try and do that with your Go-Gurt app in 20 years!