The Epic Story Of The Bigfoot, The Dominator, And The 1990s Giant Pizza War
With pizza, less is never more. More is more. More slices, more toppings, more cheese. Never was that more apparent than in 1993, when America's three biggest pizza chains - Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Little Caesars - launched nearly identical short-lived super-pizza concepts: the Bigfoot, the Dominator, and the Big! Big! Pizza, respectively. What all three pizzas had in common was that they were marketed not on how they tasted, but on how enormous and impractical they were. The Little Caesars Big! Big! Pizza bragged about weighing more than 4 pounds, while the Dominator was an entire yard long - so big it didn't fit in most delivery vehicles.
For a while, giant pizzas were everywhere. Pizza Hut rolled out an expensive ad campaign and even bought a blimp to promote the Bigfoot. But a few years later, the fad was over. Despite online petitions and persistent social media chatter, the Bigfoot and its ilk have never been resurrected. In the era of smartphone-based delivery services, massive pizzas aren't even really practical. But for one bright, shining moment, size really did matter. The story of the giant pizza conflict is one filled with massive highs and delicious lows.
Little Caesars Got Things Started With The Big! Big! Cheese Pizza
Size: 11 1/4 inches by 22 1/2 inches
Number of Slices: 24 (two sets of 12)
Cost: $8.88 ($15.85 in 2020 US Dollars)
In 1993, the combined might of Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Little Caesars accounted for a whopping 48 percent of the US pizza industry. While Pizza Hut was the market leader at the time, each of the "Big Three" had carved out their own niche with hungry consumers.
Pizza Hut was known for a family-friendly dine-in experience. Many of its establishments at the time had red leather booths, arcade games, and other features that made a night out at Pizza Hut an attractive proposition. Domino's had developed a best-in-class home delivery system, built on a reputation for being the fastest to your door.
Little Caesars didn't have dine-in locations. It also didn't have a delivery fleet, which made it a carryout-only operation. So, how did Little Caesars set itself apart from its rivals? By offering more, of course.
Starting in 1974, Little Caesars sold pizza in pairs, which is where the slogan "Pizza Pizza" comes from. Two pizzas? "Pizza Pizza"? Get it? Good.
While Little Caesars couldn't offer Pizza Hut's big night out or the speedy delivery of Domino's, it could offer you more pizza for less money. Value became the most important part of its brand identity.
For decades, a kind of pizza détente existed between the Big Three, with each company operating its little fiefdom in peace. The giant pizza battle marked a turning point, as coexistence gave way to open hostilities. "In the last few years, we've been getting into each other's territory," Domino's spokesperson Tim McIntyre told The Christian Science Monitor in November 1993 as the conflict raged.
The Big! Big! was the spark that lit the match - the next logical step in Little Caesars' value pizza offensive. What if, instead of just offering two normal-sized pizzas, it could offer you two humongous pizzas?
Despite being called the "Big! Big! Cheese," the pizza came with pepperoni, which was and still is the most popular pizza topping. During this period, sales of Little Caesars pizza soared by 54%. The company also added non-pizza menu items like spaghetti and doubled its store count in the four years leading up to this point. After years of being a firm No. 3, Little Caesars was poised to challenge Domino's for second place. By all accounts, the Big! Big! Cheese was a remarkable success, but there would be rivals for the crown.
Pizza Hut Answered With The Bigfoot Pizza
Size: 12 inches by 24 inches
Number of Slices Offered: 21
Cost: $10.99 ($19.62 in 2020 US Dollars)
With Little Caesars soaring, Pizza Hut, as the No. 1 pizza brand, had a choice. It could ignore the pesky underdog competition - or copy it.
Pizza Hut chose the latter.
Soon after the release of the Big! Big! Cheese, Pizza Hut dropped the Bigfoot Pizza, the brainchild of the company's product development team. That's the same think tank that went on to create other zany 1990s and early 2000s curiosities like the Big New Yorker, the P'Zone, and the legendary Stuffed Crust - all revolutionary concepts that defined fast food for years.
The Bigfoot might be the most fascinating of all the gimmicks to come out of Pizza Hut's '90s golden age, mostly because of how aggressive the company was in marketing its absurd creation. Pizza Hut spent millions of dollars to saturate television, magazines, newspapers, and billboards with advertisements claiming the Bigfoot was not just a giant pizza, but a genuine cultural event.
This was the era of overblown, ubiquitous ad campaigns across multiple entertainment mediums. The only ad campaign of the era that might be able to compete with the Bigfoot for obnoxiousness was Crystal Pepsi, which just so happened to also come from Pizza Hut parent company Yum! Brands.
The most unique awareness initiative created for the Bigfoot was also the most embarrassing. Pizza Hut leased a $4 million blimp with the cartoony Bigfoot Pizza logo splashed on the side, which the company planned to deploy in select markets to drum up interest. It was a brash stunt, but one that didn't go according to plan.
On July 4, 1993, the Bigfoot Pizza blimp crashed onto the roof of an apartment building on the West Side of Manhattan, injuring two crew members. While the situation was unfortunate, Pizza Hut felt the $6 million it spent on the blimp roadshow was a success because the Fourth of July incident "heightened brand awareness," according to a Pizza Hut vice president.
Stunts like that are why the Bigfoot is the most well-remembered of the Big Three giant pizzas. It's hard to forget the over-the-top campaign, which featured commercials parodying alleged sightings of the mythical Bigfoot. Notably, one of the ads had a short cameo from Haley Joel Osment, who went on to get nominated for an Academy Award for The Sixth Sense a few years later. The TV ads for the Bigfoot took direct aim at the competition. The tactic did not sit well with Little Caesars.
The No. 3 brand responded to this brazen call-out by running an ad in which a Little Caesars monster truck crushes a much smaller monster truck presumably meant to symbolize Pizza Hut. The announcer claims the Big! Big! Cheese is actually bigger than the Bigfoot - which is not technically true from a length perspective, though one could argue the Big! Big! Cheese was cut into more slices than the Bigfoot.
What Little Caesars could brag about was weight. It touted the Big! Big! Cheese as tipping the scales at more than 4 pounds, thanks to more cheese and more toppings. Whether or not that was true is impossible to prove today.
Despite Little Caesars' best efforts, the Pizza Hut campaign was a success. The company's sales totaled $5.7 billion from 9,800 stores in 1993, thanks in no small part to the demand for the Bigfoot.
The Domino's Dominator Failed To Dominate
Size: 10 inches by 30 inches
Number of Slices: 30
Cost: Between $9 and $11, depending on the market (Between $16 and $20 in 2020 US Dollars)
Photos of the Dominator are harder to find than those of the actual mythical creature called Bigfoot. There's a wealth of press coverage from the time, plenty of misty-eyed reminiscences, and a few paltry Wiki entries. But for the most part, the Dominator is lost to time, a victim of being the third entrant in the giant pizza contest.
Here's what we do know. Of the Big Three, Domino's was the only chain to see sales decline in the five years prior to the giant pizza fad. That meant a lot of pressure was on the company to respond to its competition, lest it fall even further behind.
So, a few weeks after Pizza Hut upped the ante with the Bigfoot, Domino's debuted the Dominator. It was a 30-slice pizza that was a nearly a yard long: 10 inches by 30 inches, cut into 30 slices. That meant the Dominator was the largest of the three mega-pizzas by any measurement, even if it was ultimately the least successful. Asked to describe the Dominator, Tim McIntyre said, "Laid side by side, it's bigger than my 3-year-old." One wonders if Tim actually put this claim to the test during the R&D phase.
Regardless of its sheer girth, the Dominator struggled thanks to some sloppy planning and logistical nightmares. Because of the pizza's size, Domino's only offered its gargantuan pie via carryout. That means that even though Domino's was known as the best, fastest pizza delivery service of them all, there was no delivery option for its newest, biggest creation.
In the mad dash to respond to Pizza Hut and Little Caesars, no one at Domino's stopped to ask if ignoring its biggest consumer draw was a good idea. If you're used to Domino's delivery, imagine calling to get the fancy new Dominator and being told you have to come pick it up. On top of that, you better have a car large enough for an entire yard's worth of pizza.
There's a reason photos and video of the Dominator are scarce. Pizza Hut overwhelmed Domino's with a multi-million-dollar ad campaign weeks before launch, then Domino's alienated a consumer base that had come to expect swift, convenient delivery. You never want to be the last to market, but you certainly don't want to be the worst conceived, either. Unfortunately, the Dominator was both.
Domino's has subsequently resurrected the "Dominator" label for pizzas in territories like Bangladesh and Pakistan. These aren't the rectangular monstrosities of the 1990s, though. "Dominator" is now just a catchy name for a normal pizza.
So, in a sense, the Dominator lives on, which is more than can be said for its dearly departed competitors.
- Photo: Domino's
Who Won The Giant Pizza War? Nobody.
There was no winner in the giant pizza battle. All three pizzas are long gone - mere footnotes in the history of American fast food.
In the years after the debut of the Big! Big! Cheese, Little Caesars' business collapsed. It did try another large-format product, this time called "Pizza by the Foot," which did little to save it from disaster. From 1998-2001, hundreds of Little Caesars locations closed. It got so bad that Little Caesars stopped reporting store counts from 1999 to 2005.
As hipper, more upscale "fast-casual" pizza restaurants like MOD and Blaze Pizza have cut into the market share, the idea of "value" has become synonymous with poor quality. Little Caesars did little to refute this notion with its bargain-basement $5 Hot-N-Ready promotion. The brand has crawled back to No. 3 as of 2019, but its gross sales are dwarfed by the top two - less than half of the current industry leader.
Pizza Hut, ever-focused on non-stop innovation through its product development team, cycled the Bigfoot off the menu in favor of bolder gimmicks. Eventually, one stuck. Patty Scheibmeir, a product development team member in charge of focus groups, was struck with the bright idea to put cheese inside the crust. The Stuffed Crust pizza is still on the Pizza Hut menu today, one of the only product development innovations to endure across the decades.
Ironically, it's the very company that flamed out the worst in the giant pizza battle that's come out on top. Domino's, for years a distant second, is now the industry leader in a far more crowded marketplace. While Little Caesars went even further into the budget category and Pizza Hut focused on more gimmicks, Domino's went back to what it did best: delivery. Domino's presaged the rise in online ordering when it released the Pizza Tracker in 2008, a novelty app that allowed customers to watch a progress bar to follow the creation and delivery of their food.
There were questions about whether or not the Pizza Tracker actually used real-time info, or if it was just set to a timer, but it didn't matter. Consumers eager to embrace technological innovation in the early smartphone era fell in love with the concept. Business skyrocketed for Domino's, while Pizza Hut floundered with increasingly silly ideas like a Cheez-It Pizza. Today, more and more people use apps like Caviar, Uber Eats, and Postmates to get their food. And just like Domino's, all of those apps have a tracker for you to watch as you wait.
In 2018, Domino's beat Pizza Hut for market share for the first time ever. The company didn't succeed by lazily copying Pizza Hut, but with the kind of ingenuity that would have made Pizza Hut's product development team incredibly jealous.