Web Exclusive | June 2012 | By Brendan O’Brien

Pizza Patrón’s Big Gamble

Company stands firm with controversial promotion.

Customer who ordered in Spanish would recieve a free pizza at Pizza Patron.
Customer who ordered in Spanish would recieve a free pizza at Pizza Patron.

Pizza Patrón caused a national stir—and was the victim of protests—this week with a promotion that offered free pizza to anyone who ordered in Spanish. But the Dallas-based company stuck to its guns in an effort to assert its unique brand positioning and communicate with its core clientele.

The concept’s “Pizza, Por Favor” promotion, which ran at the franchise’s 104 stores on June 5, offered a large pepperoni pizza between 5 and 8 p.m. to any patron who ordered by saying “pizza, por favor,” or a similar phrase.

The promotion garnered plenty of free press in the preceding weeks, as well as praise from hungry customers. But it also angered many who felt it promoted the speaking of Spanish instead of English and even led to some customer protests.

“The phones have rung a lot with nasty phone calls, [and we’ve also received negative] e-mails and [messages] on our Facebook site,” says Andy Gamm, brand development director at Pizza Patrón. “The reality is that you don’t even have to speak Spanish. We’ll even coach you at the store. You do have to say the words, but they are a couple of words that anybody can say. So this isn't excluding anybody.”

Gamm says Pizza Patrón is trying to get out ahead of a broader cultural shift taking place in the U.S., and he notes that the pizza company has become a cultural symbol in its communities by creating a platform to discuss issues important to Hispanics.

About 70 percent of the chain’s clientele is Hispanic, and the promotion was intended to be a vehicle to invite non-Hispanics into the restaurants to participate, Gamm says. “We thought we could build a little bridge and create a fun experience that was a good fit for our brand and simple enough that anyone could participate,” he explains.  

The “Pizza, Por Favor” promotion is not the first Pizza Patrón promotion to spark controversy. In 2007, the company began accepting pesos at its stores, a move that culminated with death threats delivered to the corporate offices in Dallas.

“We live in this environment that, right or wrong, people are very sensitive. But in order to move the needle, you do need to push it a little bit.”

“I am always a little bit surprised at the intensity in the response that we get,” Gamm says.

The company learned to deal with crisis during the peso controversy, Gamm adds, and company officials decided early on with the “Pizza, Por Favor” campaign to grant every interview to the press, which gave them a chance to explain the reasons for the promotion. “This time around we were much better prepared because of that experience,” Gamm says.

“Their intention is to strengthen their relationship with their core customers, and that is a critical piece of that company's strategy,” says Laura Sonderup, managing director of Hispanidad, a Denver firm focused on reaching diverse consumer segments. “They know who their target audience is, they know how best to reach that target audience, and then that takes us to the conversation about tactics.”

Sonderup says officials at Pizza Patrón should be applauded because they are leveraging strong marketing expertise.

“That result is in moving the needle, and that is what any well-run company wants to do,” she says. “We currently live in this environment that, right or wrong, people are very sensitive. … But in order to move the needle, you do need to push it a little bit. Engaging people in a conversation is what all of us want to do.”

Hispanic marketing does not equal Spanish-language marketing, Sonderup says, because not every Latino in the U.S. speaks or wants to be communicated with in Spanish.

“Pizza Patrón is not simply saying that they want to target all Latinos,” she says. “What they are saying is that there is a sub-segment that represents a robust business opportunity for them, and that is a Spanish-preferred or Spanish-dominant consumer.”

“Pizza, Por Favor” is the first of three culturally diverse promotions Pizza Patrón planned to run this year. But company officials decided to postpone the second promotional campaign, scheduled for July 4, due to the negative reaction caused by the “Pizza, Por Favor” promotion.  

“We are not eliminating it; we are just going to wait for a better time and let things cool down a bit,” Gamm says.


I personally think this is great. My daughter is almost 4 and from watching shows like Dora, Kilan and reading books with both English and Spanish, she is able to speak both Spanish and Chinese along with English. People who are causing problems with this are just stuck in their ways - we have to move towards the future!

God is great, beer is good and people are crazy or so says one of favorite country philosophers. Good for you Pizza Patron. I am not a spanish speaker (though I do a mean counting from one to ten), and find the reaction silly. In the age of facebook, email, twitter, website and people dressed up in stupid animal costumes, why should anybody care how you give away free pizza. Especially in a country built around the immigration of other cultures, language and nationalities. Shame on you "English-Speaking Americans" who are afraid of a little spanish. Por-favor!

It todays society we all have to be open to change! I commend Pizza Patron for a fantastic promotion. The media world is built around all the negative feed back that comes from a great promotion like this. The media forgets to talk about all the positives that came out of the promtion and the 1000's of people that got a free pizza. I applaud Pizza Patron for what they did!!!!!!!

If you think this is merely clever marketing, ask yourself this. What would happen if a large business had a policy of selling two units such as pizza for the price of one to anyone that ordered in English? Of course, this would mean that someone who ordered in Spanish would get only one unit for the same price; i.e. order in Spanish and you pay twice the price per unit. One thing that might happen is that the business would be sued for violation of civil rights. Starting with the civil war and going through the civil rights movement, we have been struggling to eliminate discrimination. People of Hispanic ancestry as well as African Americans as well as women have been major beneficiaries of our laws against discrimination. Now some folks consider a pizza company clever for engaging in blatant discrimination and calling it brand positioning.

I think the idea is great. This is a small niche company that is looking to expand sales and grow its business and bottom-line. If it works, good for them. Stop thinking so small and bringing in all kinds of non-issues to their marketing campaign. It's apparent you have nothing to do or know nothing about the business world. As far as claiming discrimination, go to college and get a degree in law, will you? Or maybe better, get a degree in Marketing or Sales. Small minds, small worlds!

Don't you have anything else to worry about but a small niche business that wants to gain market share, sales and profits. Are you that closed minded. Nice going Pizza Patron, ignore the negative comments, they are coming from close minded people. Keep doing what you are doing to grow your business. Sorry there is a handful of "pure people" who don't look at the big picture. Didn't hear protests when Taco Bell came out with "yo quero Taco Bell".

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