Canadian Pizza Magazine

Thinking outside the box

Colleen Cross   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

How to make this underused real estate work for you

The purpose of a pizza box is to transport a baked product from its
origin point to its destination while maintaining as much heat and as
much stability of ingredients as possible,” says Scott Wiener, author of
Viva la Pizza!: The Art of the Pizza Box.

The purpose of a pizza box is to transport a baked product from its origin point to its destination while maintaining as much heat and as much stability of ingredients as possible,” says Scott Wiener, author of Viva la Pizza!: The Art of the Pizza Box.

 pizza boxes  
Photos courtesy of Melville House


But clearly the pizza box is so much more than merely utilitarian to Wiener, owner of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City, who over the past five years has amassed 595 pizza boxes from 45 countries to claim a Guinness World Record.


A pizza box is a common sight with so much variation that we take it for granted, he says. “When you really look out there in the marketplace, the variation in artwork is so vast and so understudied, and I would say even underdesigned
…The American boxes are underusing that space.”

Why is the pizza box so overlooked as a marketing tool?

It costs a bit more and there is a perception that it’s unnecessary, says Wiener.

“In a way, New York boxes are the most boring because they are walk-in-and-take-a-slice-out kind of food businesses,” he says.

There is great potential for takeout- or delivery-only businesses to invest in their boxes as marketing tools. These businesses don’t have the expense of signage and décor, so most of their budget can go into the delivery method.

Also, some believe that because the product is already sold, there is little need to market it after the fact.

Dave Crowder, sales manager for Atlantic Packaging Products of Toronto, which manufactures packaging and displays for a variety of larger pizza businesses, says Canadian clients are awakening to the marketing possibilities of the box.

“I am seeing companies becoming more in tune with the box as a marketing tool,” says Crowder. For example, some companies are creating an “augmented reality” through their boxes. He is seeing more and more requests from clients for QR codes and smartphone technology to offer customers a value-added experience. For example, Pizza Hut UK recently teamed up with Xbox One and augmented reality app, Blippar, to provide customers with exclusive game content directly on their smartphones.

Wiener understands the challenges of marketing, but as a connoisseur of the pizza box as a standalone piece of art, he appreciates its potential for marketing and branding.

“It’s not like when you’re buying a box of cereal. … You buy it without knowing what it comes in,” he says, which means that the box is advertising after the fact. “I’ve read that an average of 2.5 people will see every pizza box after it leaves the store. That stat means that per box there are not a lot of eyeballs, but if you come up with a design that’s attractive enough, then people will look at it more.”

“People don’t realize the benefit of putting extra money into something that already exists – it’s a way to create an identity.” With applications such as Instagram so popular, he says, an image can go viral simply because it’s on a pizza box.

With that in mind, here are a few trends making noise in outside-the-box marketing.


Pizza box art can be a great way to get customers involved. Large chains have mounted high-profile drawing campaigns in order to generate publicity.

In April 2013, Pizza Hut Canada streamed live YouTube video of an illustrator sketching commenter-suggested images on pizza boxes. The images generated for this campaign include a pizza eating a man, a porcupine in a balloon factory and “Lady ’Za ’Za” wearing a dress made of pizza.

The social media campaign, part of the brand’s celebration of gaining 200,000 fans on its Canadian Facebook page, was run by Toronto agency Grip Limited.

The trend of drawing on boxes is goes beyond the big players, however, and seems to have taken on a life of its own with customers asking delivery people to produce personal drawings on their boxes.

Customers also enjoy playing with the actual boxes. Domino’s Pizza pioneered the concept of using the box as a game board. In 2009, the company shipped 23 million pizza boxes featuring Hasbro games Cranium, Pictureka and Connect 4 x 4 to promote its Family Game Night. The boxes’ side panels provided removable game pieces and its angled front corners gave it extra strength for stacking.

the pizza box as art

The value in producing beautiful boxes lies in giving people a reason to hold on to the box after its contents have been eaten, says Wiener.

An eye-catching pizza box can serve as a point of differentiation and a conversation piece for your brand.
Photo courtesy of Melville House.


He is fascinated by the high level of artwork he has seen on generic boxes that aren’t even branded for a specific pizzeria, for example, a box that features Bart and Homer Simpson lookalikes as pizzaiolos. “It’s one of the most beautiful boxes I’ve seen anywhere.”

But a box need not be a masterpiece to be an effective marketing tool, says Wiener. A box designed for Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, which mimicks a tattoo, is one of his favourites. “It’s a simple, four-colour print, not even a processed print. It’s a basic, stamped spot print, but it’s really on brand with what their pizzeria is.”

Crowder credits Pizza Pizza’s bright orange boxes, along with its “967-11-11” campaign earworm, with sparking interest among pizza businesses in doing more with their boxes. Such designs have higher visibility than you might think, considering many pizza boxes sit in the garage for a week waiting to be discarded or recycled, he adds.

Along with the complicated four-colour graphics companies are requesting comes the need for a big budget. There is a fine line between cost-effectiveness and marketing savvy, he has discovered: he is sometimes caught in the middle trying to please the marketing experts, who want “the Cadillac of boxes,” and the clients, who want to keep costs down.

laid-back and recycled

There seems to be a high-end versus low-end split in the direction companies are taking, between complex designs that use three or four colours and simple, bare-bones concepts that may reflect a desire to reduce our carbon footprint, says Crowder.

They are all using the same basic boxes, so the integrity of the box itself is generally not a point of differentiation, he says, suggesting the decision has more to do with how a business wants to position itself than it does with cost limitations.

The Green Box allows the lid of the pizza box to break into four serving plates. New York-based company Environmentally Conscious Organization (the CFO of which is a transplanted Canadian) made its first Canadian sale to Ali Baba Pizza of Victoria.

“This just may be the most talked-about innovation in pizza box history,” says Wiener in his book.

The biggest trend at the moment, however, is pizzerias reworking boxes that sport generic messages such as “Hot and tasty” and customizing them, he says.

A lot of pizzerias are buying the generic boxes and folding them inside out so that the blank lining on the inside shows on the outside. They are using customized stamps to brand what would be the inside of the box.

It’s not a matter of saving on money when you have to pay someone to stamp 300 boxes a day, he says. “It shows people really do want to use that space.”

Print this page


Stories continue below