Feathers may fly over wings

July 5, 2006

A new TV commercial by the Wingstop chicken wing chain is likely to ruffle the feathers of more than a few pizza operators.

The 30-second spot, titled "Stick to Pizza," is largely a tongue-in-cheek effort featuring former Dallas Cowboys quarterback-turned-spokesman Troy Aikman. The Super Bowl champion tells customers that if they want wings from the experts, they should fly to Wingstop, not pizza operations. The script runs like this:

"You know, it seems there are a lot of places out there trying to sell you on some kind of chicken wing," Aikman says.

The scene—which, interestingly, changes to black and white—cuts to a pizzeria kitchen where a cook is confused over what to do with the pile of chicken wings before him. When he notices the pizza maker next to him tossing dough in the air, the cook takes the wings and clumsily does the same. When the wings fall in a heap onto the counter, the cook says to the pizza maker, "Maybe we should stick to pizza."

The scene

La Nova Pizza, one of the busiests pizza companies in the world, says half its sales come from fried chicken wings.   Photo courtesy of La Nova Pizza.

switches back to color, when Aikman adds, "But nobody does wings quite like Wingstop. Best I've ever eaten. You're gonna love 'em. Next time you want wings, leave it to the experts. "

Andy Howard, executive vice president of marketing for Dallas-based Wingstop, said the ad is the first "directly competitive" marketing move made by the 300-unit chain. He said Wingstop didn't set out to insult pizza operations, but it did want to make the claim that its wings are the best.

"We look around the market and ask ourselves, 'Who are our competitors?' Well, the answer to that is, 'Anybody selling wings,'" said Howard. Seventy-five percent of Wingstop's business is carryout, he added, and that makes pizza companies an even keener competitor. "We've obviously noticed pizza guys continuing to ad wings to their menus, so we know our headline has to be that we're the wing experts, that we're focused on wings more than anyone in country."

That pizza companies don't do wings well is a tough claim to accept, said Michael Dentico, vice president of sales for La Nova Wings in Buffalo, N.Y. The company, which is one of the largest suppliers of wings to the pizza industry, grew out of La Nova Pizza, one of the busiest independent pizza operations in the world. The company's two stores generate annual sales of $8.5 million, nearly half of which come from deep-fried wings.

"Being one of the major impetuses behind bringing wings to the pizza industry, I have to disagree with Wingstop's philosophy that wings aren't a pizzeria item," said Dentico. Wings produced by La Nova Wings are fully cooked for reheating in pizza ovens. "Pizzerias are really responsible for wings restaurants sprouting. It was the success of pizza and wings that gave wing concepts the ability to stand on their own."

For decades, wings have been a staple side item in Northeastern pizzerias and bars for decades. (A Google search of the term "pizza and wings" netted 7.8 million links.)

Figuring the rest of the nation would like them as well, the Todaro family, which owns La Nova, founded the wing company in 1994. Near that same time, Domino's Pizza launched wings on its menu nationwide, and fewer pizzerias than not have done the same.

"We literally sell several million chicken wings per week to the pizza trade, and we're obviously not the only company doing that," said Dentico. "So you can only imagine how many billions of wings per week are sold into the pizza trade overall."

All advertising is good

Marketing consultant Kamron Karington said Wingstop's tactics are the same he teaches to his pizzeria clients: establish a clear point of difference from the competition.

"In the commercial, they did an excellent job of positioning themselves as experts against pizza places that do wings as a sideline," said Karington, a former owner of four pizzerias. "People know that now they can get wings at almost any restaurant or pizza place, so Wingstop did the right thing by going a step further and saying, 'We're the experts. We specialize in this.'"


Fully 95 percent of Wingstop's sales come from chicken wings and fresh-cut fries.   Photo courtesy of Wingstop.

even as a well-known proponent of "in-your-face marketing," Karington recommended pizza operators not "waste even a dollar trying to defend that territory." He believes that when people want pizza, that's what they'll get, and if they crave a side of wings, they'll get them at the pizzeria. "Nobody's going to go to both places. If they want wings more, they'll go get wings at a place like Wingstop."

Karington recommended operators let Wingstop spend the big dollars promoting wings (the spot is running in select markets now, but it will run nationally in September) and then promote their own wings in their regular promotions.

"You should have a coupon for wings on all your advertising," he said. "These other guys are putting wings in the public consciousness, so have your order-takers say, 'Hey, would you like an order of wings tonight?' I think they may be doing the pizza guys a favor with this."

Dentico agreed.

"You know what they say: All advertising is good advertising," he said. "The nice thing for La Nova is that it brings publicity to the chicken wing. That's good for our business."

Money-back guarantee

According to Karington, the Wingstop ad failed in one area: It didn't guarantee its product. It's one thing for an operator to claim it's the expert, he said, but customers respond better when declarations are backed by a money-back promise. Pizza operators who want to draw attention to their wings should do this, he said.

"You don't even have to say yours are the best, but you should say something like, 'You'll love 'em or your money back,'" he said.

Karington also advised pizza operators focus on competing with other pizza operators, not wings companies. "I don't see any benefit in going after a sit-down (wings) restaurants. You need to go after the guy who's trying to get yours.

"I used to make this point in my own marketing: 'Why go to a restaurant, pay those prices and then have to leave a fat tip when you can call us and get pizza delivered to your door?' Wingstop doesn't deliver, but you do."

Topics: Independent Operation , Marketing

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