Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Hut's forward march

It's human nature to want to reinvent yourself from time to time. Maybe you get a new hairdo, perhaps you get snazzy new shoes, or you get your teeth straightened and whitened. The reasons why you do it are varied - you want to feel young, you want to look more professional, you want to appeal to members of the opposite/same sex. In short, you just want to freshen up a bit so people see you in a new light, or see something in you they hadn't noticed before.

Companies engage in reinvention, too, only it's called rebranding. They hit a wall in terms of revenues, they feel neglected or taken for granted by the public. They make a few cosmetic changes or undergo a major makeover to get you to take notice of them again. Essentially, they want to rekindle the ardor they felt in the marketplace once upon a time.

For example, as I noted this week, Miracle Whip is courting edgy youth who want to stand out. And Pizza Hut is giving its brand a facelift by adopting the name The Hut at some of its outlets.

The company is hoping the new branding will staunch the flow of consumer dollars to such competition as small pizza joints, improved frozen pies, and prepared pizza products offered by your local grocer. Moreover, by switching to The Hut, the company hopes consumers will understand that there's more to the chain's menu than suggested by the old name.

Looking at the new logo, it's not drastically different. It still looks a lot like a candy-apple fedora to me. But I'm feeling resistance to the new name. For starters, it's not materially different from the old name to make me reconsider Pizza Hut. It's like the company is hedging its bets, trading on tradition even as it tries to go forward. Which would explain why the company is not, for now, affixing the new name to all of its outlets.

But the name, The Hut, also bothers me. When I think of a hut, I think of a small, dank medieval hovel fashioned from mud and straw where you go to quench your thirst on mead served from a hog's head, or something. 'The Hut' just doesn't have that cachet, that necessary freshness, to compel people to give it a second look. It feels at odds with the efforts the brand is making to court young people, such as having a Twintern tweeting about the chain and other items on Twitter. Yet when you consider that Twitter is mainly the domain of boomers, it starts to make more sense.

I could be wrong. Yum Brands, The Hut's corporate parent, managed to shift Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC. Despite jokes that the name change was necessitated by the fact that KFC didn't use chicken anymore, it seems to have worked out well. But first blush suggests this is more a matter of a brand deciding what the market wants and imposing it as opposed to renewing the brand based on consumer input. If it works, I'll be the first to raise a stoat stein of hydromel to toast its success. Otherwise, the company's going to have to work very hard to patch the leaks in its Hut.

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