If you’re a millennial and use social media there is likely no doubt when someone refers to the “Pizza King” or “El Prez” you know who they are talking about.
If you’re unsure of who these prestigious titles belong to, that’s fine, but if you run a company affiliated with anything pizza and you don’t, in short: major problem. Just ask one Midwest frozen pizza company who has found themselves on the dark side of the Pizza King’s kingdom.
The Pizza King is none other than Dave Portnoy, the founder of the online sports and lifestyle blog, Barstool Sports. The company Portnoy began has a cult following of fans who actively engage on Barstool’s social media accounts. They affectionately call themselves “Stoolies”.
As part of his online mission, Portnoy does daily pizza review videos where he goes to a pizzeria and evaluates the pies they serve up. He scores them one through 10 and rarely gives a round number, those he calls “rookie scores”. He’s also known to plug a Barstool product or two in between bites.
The reviews Portnoy produces aren’t for everyone but at the core of each video is a story that resonates with it’s target consumers. Admittedly, like any good social media campaign, Portnoy is not attempting to appeal to everyone. The language he uses can be crass, the jokes he makes are almost never politically correct, and he does not hold back when giving his opinion about a pizza he’s breaking down. However you slice Portnoy’s videos, what is clear is that millions of people love what he is serving up. And if you own a pizza business, there is a good chance, at least online, he has a larger social media following than you.
For eateries that score well, they just enjoyed a free advertisement. Even those that may not have done well still manage to walk away unscathed, as Portnoy’s more brutal comments are likely forgotten by the time the next video is released. That is, unless a pizza business manages to ruffle his feathers. It rarely happens but when it does, watch out.
In the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Portnoy, under quarantine, has adapted his format and has taken to reviewing frozen pizzas from his New York City home. The videos suggest he and his team reached out to several producers of frozen pizza via social media early in the days when he began sheltering in place. Most companies they connected with, Portnoy has said, mailed him a pizza. Many more have (to their marketing team’s credit) sent him pizzas unsolicited too.
There was one frozen pizza company, however, that went in a different direction. Instead of sending a pizza to Portnoy, they allegedly wrote Barstool Sports an essay explaining why they did not have time to mail him a pie amid the coronavirus. Portnoy’s perspective on the situation: in the amount of time it took this pizza company to write their letter, all while delivering pizzas to myriad grocery stores across the country, they could have found a moment to mail him a damn pie. However you feel, what transpired has given Portnoy new material.
I have a confession, I am one of those people who tune in to watch Portnoy’s pizza reviews. I have been off and on for years. What keeps me, and millions of others of viewers, coming back day after day, whether most realize it or not, is that Portnoy is a storyteller all his own. He is the central character, the leader of his people, forever protecting them from any adversary who dares sell offensive tastes of sauce and cheese. The pizza company who didn’t send him a pizza has become his latest villain.
Not every good story needs a villain per say but it does need something on an emotional level for viewers to connect with. Whether you think Portnoy’s approach is fair or not, the view counts he has racked up in quarantine prove the content he is making is resonating.
There are several takeaways from watching this latest pizza saga unfold:
1). Portnoy’s ability to adapt his reviews to an evolving environment should be lauded. They show he is still able to do his job and do it well from home.
2). Every business, even a frozen pizza company in the heartland, needs to have a strong social media game. The lesson here is that one needs to create the content consumers demand or face the consequences. Plain and simple.
3). Businesses need to know what digital content is trending in their industry. This will allow them to ride a wave of engagement or, if they don’t, have that wave crash into them.
4). Content, like Portnoy, is King. To stay competitive in an increasingly digital world, every company needs a professional who understands how to tell your brand’s story in a way that spreads your message on your terms. As I’ve said in a previous blog post, what the pandemic has made clear is that even businesses models that have withstood the test of time need to change or they will become the latest casualty of the free market.
This blog article was written by Five Seasons Media’s Chief Creative Officer, Josh Scheinblum. For questions about how Five Seasons Media can help your organization, please contact Josh via email at Josh@5SeasonsMedia.com.