NEW YORK — During the next presidential debate, the candidates will be pondering the important questions of our time. But the most controversial may be “Sausage or pepperoni?”
Pizza Hut is offering a lifetime of free pizza — one large pie a week for 30 years — or a check for $15,600 to anyone who poses the question to either President Barack Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney during the live town hall-style debate next Tuesday.
The proposed stunt, which the pizza chain announced Tuesday, threatens to tick off millions of viewers who are expected to tune in to the debate to hear what the candidates have to say about the economy, health care and other serious concerns facing this country.
“It’s a terrible waste of time for the presidential candidates, the people who organize the debate and everyone who wants to listen,” said Mickey Sheridan, a 43—year-old bartender from Queens, N.Y., who is a Pizza Hut fan. “They should find some other way to advertise.”
Pizza Hut’s move comes as marketers continue to look for new ways to engage TV audiences that increasingly are resistant to their traditional commercials. It’s also happening at a time when Americans are paying closer attention to presidential debates. On Oct. 3, an estimated 67.2 million people watched the first debate between Obama and Romney, the largest TV audience for a presidential debate since 1992, according to Nielsen’s ratings service.
“I think people are frustrated with the political process, but they don’t want it to become a zoo,” said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates in New York.
Pizza Hut, a unit of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands Inc., said there is room for both serious and lighthearted questions in the debate, which will be broadcast on most network and cable news stations.