Soft Power Classic: How we helped Pizza Express Live from creative concept to High Street hotspot



When Pizza Express came to us with a bright idea to turn their basements back into boutique entertainment venues, we jumped at the chance. What followed was a soft power showcase of clever creativity, strategic foresight and neon Soho nights.


High Street Horrorshow


After a decade of rapid growth, the UK casual dining sector is under threat.


In the past twelve months Byron, Strada, Polpo, Jamie’s Italian and Prezzo have all hit the headlines for shutting stores, restructuring their businesses and seeking investment support.


Inflationary pressures brought about by Brexit are part of the problem, but there’s something deeper at work. At brand level, the sector is saturated, with too little differentiation between players.


Pizza Express were feeling the brunt of both factors, and a third challenge particular to them. While the business still successfully attracted families, a whole new target group was passing the brand by in favour or artisanal alternatives. This was the millennial: the sophisticated urbanite with disposable income, seeking informal dining and driven by experience over materialism.


Pizza Express sought to expand and refresh their brand with their ‘Pizza Express Live’ concept – taking the business back to its jazz-club roots to deliver a value-added dining experience that would tempt a new type of customer.


Soft Power Solution


It was our job to refine and realise the creative concept – itself a textbook example of soft power thinking.


Pizza Express opened its first jazz club on Soho’s Dean Street in 1969. Reopening their venues and capitalising on this aspect of their heritage could, Pizza Express believed, be the answer to the brand’s differentiation challenge.


This was an inspired piece of soft power insight from the Pizza Express brand team. The solution used assets that already belonged to the brand and was deeply authentic – qualities which would would appeal to discerning millennials, and which efforts by Pizza Express’ competitors did not possess. Beyond this, the concept offered up a part of Pizza Express’ history that many customers were unfamiliar with, thereby adding the excitement of discovery to the brand experience.


It was our job to prove the concept internally, then execute it for rapid rollout. In doing so, we provided the Pizza Express Live development campaign with essential structure and direction.


First, we sought to understand the sector landscape with extensive customer and competitor research, developing Pizza Express’ millennial segments in-depth. Next, we took the Pizza Express Live brand from drawing board to activation, developing the brand identity and expression to show how the ‘Live’ concept would work in the field.


Brand strategy was a key part of the challenge. We explored the relationship of the ‘Live’ venture with the core Pizza Express brand at length, finally fixing on a striking sub-brand identity that includes a new logo and a new hue for the brand’s signature blue. The colour itself strikes an edgy note that recalls Soho’s 60’s heyday, while the ‘Live’ motif cleverly communicates the brand’s basement setting.


This brand identity was expanded in exhaustive brand guidelines that show how the ‘Live’ concept should look, taste, feel and work across everything from signage to seating and marketing comms materials.


Next stop, wherever


The result? A brand identity that’s conceptually interesting, visually arresting and ready to roll out anywhere in the world.


Since the launch of the first new ‘Live’ space in Holborn, Pizza Express has earned valuable column inches for their new approach, shifting customer narratives around the brand. This PR activity is sustainable, too: by expanding their bookings beyond jazz artists to include exclusive ‘in-conversation’ events, Pizza Express will continue to generate headlines and coverage for their venues into the future.


The concept has been a commercial success, significantly increasing customers’ average cover value by encouraging them to stay longer and drink more at each venue. Entrance fees offer an additional revenue stream.


Pizza Express Live is being rolled out in branches across the globe – with interest in China, India, Singapore and the UAE. Our detailed brand guidelines will ensure that the concept is faithfully executed, consolidating the new direction for the brand and driving equity back to the core Pizza Express identity.


Job done. Time for a drink.


How will soft power thinking inject new life into your brand? Find out here.


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