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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2004 — March — Storyboard
Naming Right
Vocelli Pizza whacks Pizza Outlet, mafia style. Now it explains why its customers should not be afraid.

For more than five years, Varol Ablak contemplated a name change for the Pittsburgh-based pizza-delivery concept he and his father founded in 1988. Pizza Outlet was a popular regional chain for more than a decade, with “high-quality dough, sauce and cheese,” Ablak says. “But the first time I had somebody come talk to me about going national, they said I had to do something about the name. Pizza Outlet was very generic.”

Michael Grzymkowski, a partner with IdeaMill, the chain’s Pittsburgh-based ad agency, says strategic reasons underscored the need to toss out the Pizza Outlet name.

“They had a good product at a low price, which, in some ways, was a limiting factor for growth,” he says. “They weren’t going to lower quality, so they could not lower prices. They needed to raise the profile of the brand, get customers who were drawn to higher-priced, quality products to the brand. And to do that, they needed to change the name.”

Name Dropper
Ablak, the chain’s CEO, pulled out maps of Italy (from where he emigrated in 1969), Italian dictionaries and other sources of inspiration to come up with a new name for Pizza Outlet. One day while watching opera singer Andrea Bocelli on TV, Ablak had an idea. He took the first initial from his own name and swapped it with the first in “Bocelli.” Vocelli Pizza was born.

Over the next 18 months, the company overhauled the restaurants, signage, menu boards and overall look of the chain. In 2001, Ablak opened 10 Vocelli Pizza restaurants—some new, some converted Pizza Outlets—in suburban Washington, D.C., to test the new brand. Those 10 restaurants remain among the chain’s best performers.

That proved to Ablak that the Vocelli Pizza name was the right one to help build the chain’s strength in gourmet pizza delivery, which generates 70 percent of sales.

He asked IdeaMill to create a campaign to explain the name change to consumers and reassure them that the $48 million concept had not been sold.

Selling, Sopranos-Style
Playing off the Italian-mafia stereotype, IdeaMill created a 30-second television spot called “Whack ’em.” It shows a family patriarch offing a member of the family who is not doing his job. That member is the Pizza Outlet name. The commercial ends with the tagline, “Now our name is just as good as our pizza.” The ad does not include any promotional messages or the traditional product shots Pizza Outlet used in the past.

“We think [the ad] helps bridge the gap from old to new, in a way that was Italianate, so to speak,” Grzymkowski says.

Pizza Outlet advertised on TV in the past. But with a $3.5 million total ad budget covering everything from creative production to media buys, Vocelli Pizza also uses print, outdoor billboards and radio. Franchisees, who operate 71 percent of the company’s restaurants, pay 1 percent of sales into a national ad fund and 2 percent into a local fund. In September 2003, “Whack ’em” aired for eight weeks in prime time on broadcast and cable stations.

Almost immediately, Ablak received calls from suppliers and customers: “They said, ‘I never wanted to tell you what I thought about your name, but I’m so glad you changed it,’” he says.

On the Grow
Long term, the change to Vocelli may increase the concept’s $14.50 average check, a difficult task in the pizza landscape, Grzymkowski admits, where consumers expect coupons and price wars.

In the short term, though, Ablak is content with sales increases. In early 2003, before the name change, same-store sales had slipped, down between 4 percent and 12 percent. After the switch to Vocelli, the redesign and the new ads, same-store sales increased 2 percent. “A positive 2 percent doesn’t sound like much,” Ablak concedes. “But when you look at the swing, you see it is huge.”

Huge is something Ablak has in mind for Vocelli. With 106 current locations, Ablak plans to open 20 new restaurants in 2004 and has contracts for 42 franchised locations to open in the next two years in Atlanta; Boca Raton, Fla; and other markets. By 2010, Ablak plans to have 1,000 Vocelli Pizza restaurants nationwide.

“Pizza Hut has raised the bar with new innovations. Domino’s has delivery locked up. Papa John’s has quality ingredients,” Grzymkowski explains. “Being Italian, authentic Italian delivery, that’s where Vocelli can be.”

Whack 'em
Length: 30 seconds
1. Voice-over: For 15 years Pizza Outlet has been working hard to make great pizza. 2.
3. But one part of the family hasn’t been pulling their weight. 4. So, we decided to make it disappear.
5. 6.
7. Pizza Outlet has become Vocelli Pizza. 8. Now our name is just as good as our pizza.

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