DURHAM – Chants of “Pizza! Pizza!” are ringing out at marketing agency McKinney  after the Durham-agency won an extended campaign for the account of pizza chain Little Caesars. But while the company insists its trademark logo and togo-clad Caesar pitch guy that date back to 1979 are staying there will be changes made, with McKinney being tasked to create that new campaign.

“Our approach to the next phase of advertising at Little Caesars will be a combination of what’s worked for us in the past and new tactics,” Jeff Klein, chief marketing officer at Detroit-based Little Caesars, tells WRAL TechWire.

“Our brand tone, personality and visual identity will stay the same.

“And don’t worry—our famous slogan—Pizza!Pizza!—won’t be going anywhere.”

There’s more than togas to the aggressive Little Caesars marketing strategy –  “Hot-n-ready” and “Crazy Bread” among them. Operating in all 50 states and more than 20 countries, the chain offers take-out only.

But nothing in marketing stands still for long. Asked if the chain might move to embrace “fake meat” as plant protein spreads across the restaurant and food marketplaces, Klein notes:

“We’re always coming up with new and exciting products to thrill our customers. I can’t share more at this time, but you can stay tuned to our social media channels for product updates.”

Little Caesars’ app at Google Play.

A big task

The account is a big one. Not only is Little Caesars one of the largest pizza chains, it also invests heavily in media, spending an estimated $177 million in 2018, according to AdAge.

McKinney realizes the challenge it faces.

Little Caesars is one of the most iconic brands in the world.  And ‘Pizza! Pizza!’ is here to stay. We are excited to take the brand to consumers in new and exciting ways,” Jonathan Cude, Chief Creative Officer at McKinney, tells WRAL TechWire.

So what’s the task for McKinney, which has a history of working with other high-profile clients across a broad spectrum of speciality and it working with traditional as well as digital media?

“In terms of how we’re looking to evolve our strategy, there’s always a balance of building business vs. building brand, and we need to tip the scales a bit towards building the brand and establishing long-term value,” Klein explains.

“We need to transition from being a brand of value to a valued brand. To help initiate this shift, we’ll be investing more in an integrated media plan, a comprehensive social media strategy and a larger role for our brand character Little Caesar. You can also anticipate a greater emphasis on earned media.”

Wikipedia defines “earned media” as “publicity gained through promotional efforts other than paid media advertising, which refers to publicity gained through advertising, or owned media, which refers to branding.”

The McKinney team

McKinney and Little Caesars announced the decision on Monday. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Inside McKinney’s Durham office (McKinney photo)

The new assignment will be shared between McKinney’s teams in Durham and New York with assistance from its outpost in Los Angeles. McKinney says it will provide its new client “integrated creative, brand and retail strategy, and social media management.”

Little Caesars chose to move its account from BFG (Barton F. Graf), which is shutting down. The two firms had worked together since 2012.

“I’ve always loved the Little Caesars work,” said McKinney CEO Joe Maglio in making the announcement. “And I’m ecstatic that we get to partner with such a great group of clients to push the brand even further. I’m really proud of the McKinney team for the passion that they demonstrated throughout this highly competitive pitch.”

McKinney expanded to Los Angeles earlier this year and recently signed a new lease for its office space at the American Tobacco complex in Durham that is owned by Capitol Broadcasting, the corporate parent of WRAL TechWire.

How McKinney won

Little Caesars selected McKinney after a lengthy and competititve review process. Asked how that worked, Klein explains:

“First, we’re forever thankful for BFG (Barton F. Graf). They delivered amazing creative for us over the years. Also, we appreciate all of the agencies that participated in the review process. They put forth exceptional work, which made the decision incredibly difficult to make.

“McKinney demonstrated immense depth in their strategy, which ultimately led to breakthrough creative and a consistent brand narrative. After the six-week review process, it became very clear that they shared our values and respected our customers, which is very important to us as a family company.”

In the announcement, Klein said “McKinney demonstrated immense depth in their strategy, which ultimately led to breakthrough creative and a consistent brand narrative.”

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The process

Asked about the process, Klein explains:

“This was designed to be a long, competitive process, as it should be. It was six weeks total. We started with a wide funnel of 25 agencies and requested ad reels.

“From there, we narrowed the search to 10 agencies and invited them to talk approach at chemistry meetings. After that two-day period, we invited five agencies back for a full-day brief, which included: a review of our media plan and visual identity; a culture talk by our CEO, during which he discussed our company values and what the brand means; a menu tasting; a tour of the Global Resource Center—our brand new headquarters—and other properties owned by the Ilitch family; and at the end we gave them an assignment.

“After they left, we conducted check-in calls, then I visited each agency to learn their culture and take part in tissue sessions.

“Finally, two weeks later, our six-person selection committee, which included company owner Chris Ilitch, CEO Dave Scrivano, members of our franchisee marketing advisory committee and myself, among others, met to select our agency of record.”

Little Caesars joins a lengthy list of clients for McKinney, among them: Samsung, ESPN, and Amazon Studios.

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