In a university town, pizza reigns supreme. One Madison, Wisconsin pizzeria promotes its brand with offbeat humor targeted to students in nearby University of Wisconsin. To get its message out, Ian’s Pizza uses stickers, ever-popular with the young market, to get its message out to a constantly-changing student body.
The pizzeria’s home-baked flavors are a big part of the draw at Ian’s. The pizzeria features its flagship pizza, mac and cheese, as well as anywhere between 30 and 40 other flavors. Though the pizzeria has been known since its founding in 2001 as the place to eat off-campus for students in the in-crowd, Ian’s wanted to extend its reach to the after-club market. To do that, they branded their business using irreverent-sounding stickers that appealed to students’ inner rebels. Some stickers read, “Pizza Slut” and “Pizza Pimp,” while others paraphrased popular sayings with slogans reading “Get Your Mac On.”
The fun only starts there. Students standing in line after the town’s bars close receive the stickers from Ian’s employees. Students, already in the party zone, stick the promotional stickers anywhere they can find—on their jeans, on their notebooks, or on their cell phones. Other students, seeing the colorful stickers, become aware of Ian’s through the pizzeria’s innovative way to promote their brand.
The pizzeria keeps a huge inventory of stickers—at least 10,000 per printed batch—to set out in a large bowl placed strategically on top of the counter. Students take the stickers and paste them up all over campus and all over town.
The irreverent humor helps Ian’s brand their product as a cult favorite, making it the center gathering point of one particular tribe—the young and the hip. As word spreads, thanks to the uniquely-worded stickers, new customers who want to be part of that tribe pour through the pizzeria’s doors.
Not only do Ian’s servers put on a show as they take orders and serve pizza, but they also take their show on the street. Staff members regularly frequent the city’s farmers’ market and local festivals, handing out stickers as the crowd pass by.
Ian’s Pizza doesn’t just make brand awareness a one-time deal. The pizzeria regularly changes the message on the stickers for special events, such as the campus Halloween street fair and the school’s traditional block party during the last week of classes. It also sponsors a pizza-eating contest in which competitors vie for the honors of being the person who can eat the most Ian’s Pizza.
Before their campaign, though, they developed a solid brand by perfecting their recipe and creating a unique dining experience that caused people to spread the word for free. Then, when the word of mouth about their product brought more customers into the door, they began building even more brand awareness with their trademark stickers.
Stickers, says Adam May, the marketing director at Ian’s, only cost “a few hundred dollars” for an order, yet bring a return on their investment well beyond other marketing tactics. Because the sticker campaign seems to be everywhere in this college town, the stickers remind people that Ian’s is the place to be on weekends. When people see those stickers, a craving for pizza pops up in their minds. Now that’s the kind of brand awareness any company needs.