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Rebecca Orr

Published on

October 17, 2019


crisis communications, nostalgia marketing

This year has seen one British high street giant after another toppled with financial difficulties. From HMV – who have lived to fight another day – to Thomas Cook which brought with it the casualty of thousands of jobs and finally Pizza Express, which to many Brits feels like a step too far.

News last week that the beloved pizza restaurant finds itself in over £1 billion in debt that could possibly cause the chain to fold (everyone enjoyed a good calzone joke) seems to have tugged at the heartstrings of a whole generation. Many banded together on social media with cries of #SavePizzaExpress, but there was a something purer about this call to action than a desire to still be able to go for a Sloppy Giuseppe. It was nostalgia.

Many of those grief stricken by the announcement shared their own personal experiences and anecdotes about the situation, including:

• Piers Morgan who tweeted “I can deal with almost anything in life, but not the threatened closure of Pizza Express”
• TV presenter Jake Humphrey noted that “People who aren’t bothered about Pizza Express folding have never been in a town they don’t know, at 3pm, with two screaming, hungry kids & a headache…”
• Radio 1 DJ Chris Stark expressed “I’m worried we’ve all taken Pizza Express for granted”
• While Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes regaled us with their memories of Pizza Express on the podcast The High Low
• And Andy Murray is rumoured to have a Pollo Pizza before every tournament

Many even quipped that the potential closure of Pizza Express has overtaken Brexit as the leading national crisis, which has ironically come as a breath of fresh air between the news headlines about the looming deadline.

The power of nostalgia

But what this outpouring of love for Pizza Express really reinforces is that we are the generation of nostalgia, looking to re-live the days of growing up when our parents told us we could be and do anything. It is why Disney is remaking all of the 90’s classics and the reason our social media feeds are swarmed by #throwbackthursday posts on a weekly basis. This desire to look back to what felt like a purer time is a collective pull of society facing climate change, destruction of unity and what feels like an uncertain future.

So, should Pizza Express be doing more than just saying thank you for kneading them? Should they be taking this moment as an invitation to bring those who have fond memories of young love and wild nights out that started over a shared plate of dough balls back to the table?

Moving with the times

What many have said is that Pizza Express is steady, never better, never worse no matter where you visit. Dough balls are dough balls up and down the country. But the generation that was brought up on Pizza Express and formed a loyal fan base during the early to mid 00’s has grown up and the chain has not grown up with them. They have never reengaged with this generation to keep their loyalty, instead allowing them to hold the American Hot as a memory instead of something driving them back to the restaurant regularly.

Despite best efforts to have a quick, endearing response, Pizza Express is not actually changing its behaviour, simply upping the ads for 2 for 1 deal that got them into this mess. Now is the moment for them to capitalise on this outpouring of love to usher diners back into restaurants. Never mind nationalising the chain, take the outpouring of nostalgia and target it on social media to get consumers to save the franchise they claim to care so much about.

After all, writer Sara Gibbs observed:

Not only is this message of growing with your audience important for Pizza Express, many other brands can learn from what could be perceived as their fatal mistake. If you are going to consistently appeal to one age group, then you must evolve as those in that bracket do or you must grow up alongside those who loved you at a particular phase of their life.

Pizza Express does next could make or break them, but one thing is for sure, all those that are crying out to save the restaurant chain should plan their next get together at their nearest location…and not use a deal!

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