2011 November: Man on the Street

Four years ago, I took a trip to Israel that changed my life. I didn’t have a profound religious experience as people sometimes do while visiting a place so rich in history, but I did begin to notice something that had never caught my eye before. This was the first time in my life I noticed a pizza box. Unlike the mundane paperboard boxes with minimally designed splotchy red ink patterns of my youth, these beauties were multi-colored masterpieces that went far beyond my imagined limits of a
box top.

Ever since my pizza box epiphany, I’ve paid close attention to the vessels in which we entrust our carefully crafted pies. I’ve even gathered a pretty extensive collection of boxes from more than\ 100 pizzerias across at least 25 different countries. I can definitely say that the simple prints of my childhood are going the way of the dinosaur.

The top of a pizza box is one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal. It quickly transforms from a flat, lifeless cardboard slab into a moving billboard as soon as your customer walks her pie out the front door. It even serves as an advertising vessel when it’s sitting atop the recycling pile at the curb. When I see a cool pizza box I make it part of my collection. That means I’ll most certainly post a photo of it on Facebook and Twitter. By this point, your utilitarian cardboard box has paid for itself with the number of advertising imprints it has produced. All it takes is a unique design to separate your message from the humdrum cardboard medium on which it is printed.

One need not look any further for evidence of attractive pizza boxes than this year’s Pizza Expo. Pizzerias were invited to enter their custom boxes into competition based on design and functionality. One entry featured information about high quality ingredients and the specifics of their origins, reaching beyond the dull “Only The Best Ingredients” or “Authentic Italian Recipes” we all see on generic boxes. Another was far simpler but gave instructions for reheating leftovers, which really excites me because it shows how much the pizzeria cares about their product even after it leaves the safety of their perimeter.

The initial impact of a catchy design is huge, but there’s also a lot of potential to create a ripple effect with your box. Lately I’ve seen lots box designs with built-in coupons. Pizzerias are running “collect 10 box-top coupons for a free pizza” promotions that fuel sales without the need to print additional collateral. I even saw a pizzeria in Italy that designed pop-out tokens into their box tops so customers could redeem cardboard “points” for food and prizes at future visits. These informal loyalty programs make my decision between two like pizzerias much easier when I know I’m building toward a reward.

Pizza boxes are often thought of as a necessary evil, but their ability to extend your brand into the homes of your customers is reason enough to put more thought into your box-top design. If you’re getting more creative with your pizza ideas, why not bridge that passion into your food’s delivery vehicle? I can’t wait to see the result so I can add to my collection. u

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.