Pizza Hut backs off presidential debate offer after being mocked

Appropriate topics to broach during a live, televised presidential debate: The economy. The jobs situation. Pizza toppings? Not so much.

Pizza Hut has canned its roundly panned stunt to get the question “sausage or pepperoni?” asked during tonight’s town hall-style event. Instead, the company now plans to run the promotion online.

Last week, the pizza pie purveyor told customers that it would give away free pizzas for life — one large pie weekly for 30 years — or $15,600 to anyone brave (or dumb) enough to ask President Obama or Mitt Romney their choice of meat.

Though the publicity ploy got Pizza Hut plenty of attention, most of it was negative. On his show, Stephen Colbert sneered: “What could be more American than using our electoral process for product placement?”

On Twitter, users slammed the company for “hijacking a presidential debate for marketing,” calling the effort “silly” and “guerrilla marketing gone awful.” Some said it was a sure sign that the U.S. was becoming an “idiocracy.”

In a backtracking statement, the company wrote that its “Pizza Party” effort was “originally intended for the candidates” but “will now instead be open to the public and asked online.”

One voter will be randomly chosen to win free pizza for life. No word on whether the offer will be extended again if someone asks the question at the debate anyway.

“The anticipation and buzz around this question proves that this debate should be taken to the people,” said Kurt Kane, Pizza Hut’s chief marketing officer, in a statement. “We’re no longer asking a few hundred attendees at the town hall presidential debate on Oct. 16 to pose the question, rather we’re bringing the question — Sausage or Pepperoni? — to millions of Americans.”

Pizza companies have been especially invested in the election, ever since one-time pizza executive Herman Cain emerged as an early Republican candidate. After Florida pizza parlor owner Scott Van Duzer bear-hugged Obama during a visit last month, his eatery was flooded with Yelp comments.

This summer, Papa John’s founder John Schnatter said his company will have to choose between its customers and investors if Obama’s healthcare reform law goes into effect. Sid Fanaraof, founder of Orange County-based zpizza, declared himself a presidential candidate with the Pizza Party in a recent advertising campaign.

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