World Pizza Champions: the pizza industry's most unique marketing machine

Oct. 23, 2006
There's nothing easy about running a pizzeria, but many operators tell me marketing is their greatest challenge.
Can't say I'm surprised. Effective marketing takes serious planning, hefty investment, endless persistence and loads of creativity. Lean too heavily on any one aspect and the others suffer; offers don't resonate with customers or the materials aren't eye-catching or you stop sending out the message too soon.
Where marketing never misses is on the point of showmanship. I'm no expert in this area, but I can't think of a crackerjack marketer who isn't a shameless shill for his business. This isn't just screaming, "Mine's the best, give me your money," this is about great showmen—and show-women—who see their territory as a stage on which to tout their products. Not only do they lead customers to love their pizza, the lead the public to love them as well.
Great self-marketers have fun, too. (This point clearly is lost on every American politician up for reelection this year.) Enthusiasm is infectious because it's fun. It creates energy that attracts people who want some of that mojo for themselves. While it's true sex sells, fun appeals to everyone of every age at any time. It's universal, not gender driven. Sex stirs the hormones, but fun gives birth to happiness.
That fun sells is why the World Pizza Champions team has become the industry's most innovative marketing machine. No team member brings a marketing degree to the stage or leans on his hot-rod POS system to get him in front of a camera, these guys are becoming famous just from having a ball tossing flat skins of dough.
No matter where they go at tradeshows, they draw a crowd, even when they're not tossing dough. These pizzaioli cum Pied Pipers are becoming known internationally simply because they've developed a knack for the arguably goofy game of dough tossing.
Yeah, the La Nova girls draw tradeshow crowds, too, but those are mostly dudes ogling the hired talent proffering wings. The Pizza Champions draw 'em all, young, old, men and women. Everybody wants to know how they do what they do with those flimsy, floury spheres.
Prime Time

The World Pizza Champions team has become the industry's most innovative marketing machine. They've appeared on various networks and hundreds of newspapers.

In the space of a few months, the WPCs have been on national TV twice: once on Master of Champions, an ABC program run in prime time; and another time on the Food Network's Challenge: Pizza Champions. (The same four team members also participated in another Food Network challenge in 2005.) This is major publicity for what are arguably minor pizzeria operators. Of the four leading team members, only one has two stores. The others operate single-units.
But without fat marketing budgets or fancy media plans, there they are, traveling the world, having fun showing off the cool tricks they've practiced and perfected in their idle hours. That's good work if you can get it, don't you think?
If you don't know the team's leader, Tony Gemignani, you've probably not read a pizza industry publication in, say, a decade.  The co-owner of Pyzano's Pizzeria in Castro Valley, Calif., is a seven-time world champion who has appeared multiple times on every major TV network in prime time. Gemignani didn't invent acrobatic dough tossing, but he made it famous. His "how to" videos are sold and viewed round the world, and most competitors' moves are based on tricks he invented. His groundbreaking, spine-twisting work has turned dough tossing into a cottage industry that's growing internationally.
Before you call him a marketing genius, know that Gemignani got into dough tricks just trying to impress girls—but look what happened.
But before you dismiss him as merely lucky, understand that this guy didn't land on national TV by accident, didn't yuk it up with Jay Leno because the comedian is a fan of Pyzano's. Gemignani is a charismatic, camera-ready hustler who's learned to make decent dough tossing dough.
And he's schooling his cohorts as well. The day the WPC team had its coming out party in 2004, Gemignani told me over breakfast, "We wanted to do this to grow our businesses. In the past, I'd done it for the U.S. Pizza Team, and that was fine. But it didn't directly benefit Pyzano's. We're doing this now so our businesses get the benefit. ... I really believe this can become something big."
He was right then, and he's beyond right now. Both Food Network Challenges paid $10,000 to the winners. Gemignani shared the prize the first time, but won it solo the second time. The most recent competition included three attempts to set verified Guinness World Records. Gemignani nabbed two (most dough rolls behind the head and over the shoulders in 30 seconds, and the largest dough stretch), while teammate Joe Carlucci grabbed the highest dough toss.
How many pizza makers can point to their names in the Book of World Records?
I bet that's a cool way to pick up chicks.
If you didn't see the show, know two things: As competitive as these men are, they were having fun; and the ripple effect on their businesses was tremendous. The week the show aired, Pyzano's had its busiest weekend ever. Gemignani said they were running out of food before it all ended.
That's marketing that drives business, marketing that's not coupon driven or tied to expensive air time, marketing that makes people stop and pay attention. It's having fun. It's putting your face in front of customers and selling yourself.
Pyzano's may have run out of product last weekend, but it's going to be a long time before it runs out of Gemignani.

Topics: Marketing

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