Straw Hat Dangles Pizza In Newly Launched Video Contest

StrawHatPizza adStraw Hat Pizza wants to know: "How does pizza fuel your sport?" The cooperative for the pizza chain launched a contest last week that ends July 1, asking consumers to create a 30-second video clip that answers the question. 

Posting the video on Google's YouTube provides the ticket to enter the contest. Consumers can find the rules and an application at strawhatpizza.com. Consumers can vote for their favorite video once daily through Aug. 1. Straw Hat will announce winners Aug. 15. A panel of judges will take the YouTube viewer ratings into account to select semifinalists and the winner, who receives the Deluxe Sports Package Grand Prize.

The package includes pizza for a year, a hosted suite for 12 people at the Giants/Dodgers game Sept. 26, donated by Coca-Cola; an AWOL surfboard; Titan skateboard; and Straw Hat Pizza skateboard courtesy of Titan Skateboards.

One or more of the top videos submitted in the YouTube contest could end up in an advertisement set to run on television and in select movie theaters. Slated for later this year, pre-show ads in movie theaters will run through National CineMedia, a digital in-theater advertising joint venture between AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, and Regal Entertainment Group.

The pre-show cinema ads will likely hit theaters about the same time a campaign focused on family movies rolls out in Straw Hat restaurants. Jonathan Fornaci, president of The Straw Hat Pizza Cooperative, has been working to seal a deal either with Sony Pictures, Paramount or Fox Searchlight to offer pizza, soft drinks and DVD movies for $30. The movies, rated G to PG-13, could include "Open Season 2," "Spiderman" and "Perfect Holiday."

Fornaci was brought in six months ago to remake the company. He says the goal to increase same-store sales and grow store cooperatives from 38 in January 2008 to more than 100 by 2010 relies heavily on marketing and promotions. All will have a family theme, since Straw Hat Pizza restaurants are geared toward family and local events such as football, soccer and baseball Little League teams supported by schools and communities.

The cooperative manages promotions and marketing for the entire Straw Hat chain, giving guidance on rolling out store-specific campaigns. This year, consumers will see more billboards, television commercials, online ads and banners, and marketing and ads in movie theaters.

Straw Hat has undergone a transformation in the past 49 years since its birth in 1959. About 100 franchise locations banded together to retain brand and trademarks in 1986 when Marriott sold eight branded chains to Saga. They formed the cooperative organization that Fornaci was hired to rebuild.

The strategy taps traditional marketing, too. About 100,000 emails are sent to customers monthly through the company's loyalty and feedback programs. Billboards aim to create awareness.

A "Guaranteed Fresh" stamp will soon appear on marketing material and pizza boxes alongside the California Real Cheese logo. Fornaci, who worked in high-tech for years in ventures tied to Stanford University and GE Capital, says the effort is similar to Intel's "Intel Inside" campaign to let consumers know they bought a computer with an Intel chip inside. "We'll start at the store and take the message out to blogs and online banners before going into more traditional advertising," he says.

Straw Hat recently hired chief blogger Mary Beth Sammons to drum up a little buzz. The mom of three teens weaned on pizza provides creative insight intended to boost social media efforts and keep consumers informed of community news. Looking at the phenomena driving community, Sammons says many consumers in their 60s have interesting stories to tell after frequenting the restaurant for nearly 50 years. "Straw Hat is like the Starbucks of small towns," she says.

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