Pizza boxes: the new trojan horse?

Have a look at this “Food for thought” card, please. There it is at the bottom of the screen. It appeared recently with my store-bought pizza.

Optimism, action, imagination and conversation, all of these are good things.  And I agree that food is an important link with the world.  

But I was a little surprised to hear about them from my pizza box.  Yes, I get it.  Food, planet, environment, this is a new trinity.  Respecting this trinity through an overhaul of lifestyle is the new desideratum.  Check.  Caring about this thing and encouraging other people to care about it too, this is the new orthodoxy.  I not only get this.  I subscribe to it.

But there is something unseemly about being instructed in this sort of thing by a brand. There is presumption of familiarity.  For the brand to speak to me in this tone means that the brand must know me.  There is also a presumption of asymmetry.  In our relationship, the brand knows better.  Finally, there is that recitation of the new cosmology: that stuff about food connecting us to the world.  

I agree with everything being said (give or take).  But I am a little uncomfortable when these things are being said to me…by a brand.  

Unless of course there really is a new orthodoxy and certain powers are entitled to recite this orthodoxy and the rest of us are obliged to listen to it.  And if that’s the case, someone forgot to tell me.

Apparently, I missed that box.  

18 thoughts on “Pizza boxes: the new trojan horse?

  1. Marty Molloy

    Isn’t this just a bit of “me too” syndrome? It seems that a few brands began surprising their consumers a few years ago. Here is some culture/philosophy/thoughts to make you think/smile/relate to us better. Now, the laggards all seem to think that because a few brands were successful with it, that all consumers want to:
    1) connect with every brand they use
    2) be surprised or amused by every brand
    3) be inspired by every brand to do more

    They forget that sometimes a pizza is just a pizza and has a functional benefit.

  2. grant mccracken

    Marty, I hope you’re right. Do me it feels a tiny bit sinister. No, that’s too strong a word. Presumptuous, more like. But if you are right then what we are looking at here is the brand not lecturing, it’s merely wearing a newly fashionable heart on its sleeve. Reassuring us that it is not sinister, in any way! Interesting. Thanks, Grant

  3. peter spear

    appreciate the trojan horse metaphor, cuz this is how it strikes me.
    as I remember it, it was a dastardly trick.
    the hijacking of a perfectly ordinary (but potentially wonderful) frozen pizza experience
    by the best intentioned of CSR types asking that you become solemn to the tune of their values.

    As i learned it, brand architecture is meant to keep these corporate level/trademark kinds of notions away
    from the actual experience of our lives (those are for the shareholders) – and especially away from the experience of the product.

    but how tempting this presumption of intimacy must be. and what a difficult line to define.

    how was the pizza? dare I ask, what brand? (so I can groan in understanding – of course!)

    1. grant mccracken

      Peter, “solemn to the tune of their values” is very well said. This is the new piety. And even light hearted piety is joyless. The pizza itself was really good as I recall. Perhaps even joyful. Now that’s a branding idea: brand-free pizza! Better, more nutrious, and yes, gentler on the planet because brand less! Thanks, Grant

  4. Tim

    Hi Grant,

    Stuff like this bugs me. I kind of agree with the sentiment, although not with some of the particulars (“most direct and intimate link with the world”: um, maybe not?).

    I think that that Marty is right: sometimes pizza is just something to fill my tummy with carbs and cheese and tomato. I like my sauce on the garlic-y side, and a thin crust, thanks.


    1. grant mccracken

      Yes, “most direct and intimate link” with the world stuck with me too. So now the brand is competing with my relationship with my wife? Thanks, Grant

  5. Paula Rosch


    What I believe the company/brand is getting mixed up is that elements of the
    a brand (product features or positioning) can be a subtle but powerful
    trigger for a new experience or behavior, not a hammer-on-top-of-your
    head suggestion or order. P

  6. Mark

    The image of the happy peasant with the trowel is so utterly false it’s insulting. There was no one that looked like that involved in the production of any frozen pizza I’m likely to find anywhere.

  7. Pooky Amsterdam

    A pizza box is a terrible thing to waste! Love this blog, yes could you imagine every possible surface with a message on it? Our toilet paper perhaps admonishing us to save trees? Water? At what point does the return on the message begin to diminish? I believe we have reached this point of diminishing marginal returns on impressions.
    And we become numb or tune out to constant barrage – and I wonder, do you always read the packaging? I am afraid I do not anymore and if Pepperidge Farm started including the secret to the known universe under its ingredients I swear I wouldn’t read it.
    So I wonder, there might be someone out there who needs to read that kind of message on a pizza box. What is really of interest to me is the ROI both short and long term- that is the printing cost versus the enlightenment factor versus repeat business. And this brings up more questions – which is brilliant as this was all started by a pizza box.

    Could that message seen by the right person make significant changes to the environment?

    As to brand & pizza

    Would you buy a lousy pizza with a brilliant brand message? Once perhaps.
    A great pizza with a lousy brand message or funky box will still get bought, so the quality of the product will be the determining factor in a pizza’s success. A great tasting pizza is a thing of beauty, and worth remembering.

    Grant, you said you really liked that pizza, would you not buy it again because of the packaging?

    1. Grant Post author

      Pooky, so many questions! And yes, as you say, from a pizza box! Perhaps its working. Eat the pizza, think the box? Thanks! Grant

  8. Bud Caddell

    What’s fascinating to me is that they’ve got the order of operations wrong.

    You bought their product. Then they use that opportunity to tell you what they stand for. Or supposedly stand for.

    Apple doesn’t sell you the iPhone and then once the purchase is made, sit you down and tell you how much they believe in design. You buy the iPhone because you believe what they believe and you believe they mean it.

    If they did, it’d be schlocky. Which is what this seems.

    *Also, Grant, in Firefox, your comment form’s right edge disappears and words with it.

    1. Grant Post author

      Bud, thanks for your note. Very well said. Schlocky indeed. I am sorry about the comment “fade.” It happens at my end too and I am not sure why. Best, Grant

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  10. Myles

    No wonder today’s consumers are so green-weary! Reminds me of all the super bugs we’re creating by flooding the environment with antibiotics. All of this green marketing is simply producing insouciance. Triscuit has recently been trying to align itself with the nascent urban farming movement. They even had a big event in Madison Square park in NYC where you could pot a plant and take home a pair of Triscuit branded gardening gloves. The whole thing was a little off-putting. Funny thing is, as someone who like Triscuits, I admire them less for this little stunt. Not only that, but I couldn’t find them on the shelf the other day because their new packaging was all about urban farming—I completely missed the logo, and almost walked out of the store empty handed.

    You can see a photo of the Triscuit event I took here:

    1. Grant Post author

      I like the idea of someone getting in touch with urban farming, whether this is the brand that is most proximate and the most likely to benefit from the association is, you are correct, an open question. Thanks. P.s., love your blog. Why the name?

      1. Myles

        Thanks Grant. The name comes from answering the question: “what’s on the internet?” Although few, if any will be found there…

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