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How Donald Trump and Ivana Trump transformed Pizza Hut's stuffed-crust pizza into a multibillion-dollar business

Business Insider logo Business Insider 8/2/2018 Kate Taylor
a group of people posing for the camera© Michael Campbell

Stuffed-crust pizza is a billion-dollar business. But back in 1995, when Pizza Hut first debuted the dairy-packed new pizza, it looked like it could be a very expensive flop.

Then, Donald Trump got involved.

"They tried to sell it a million times, a million different ways, and it just wouldn't sell," Janet Lyons, one of the executive creative directors at ad agency BBDO who was tasked with finding a way to sell stuffed-crust pizza, told Business Insider in an interview for our new podcast "Household Name."

Lyons and the BBDO team hit on the idea that they needed to find a celebrity who was doing something "the wrong way" to sell the idea of eating a pizza crust first, highlighting the cheese-stuffed crust. And, in 1995, there were not many people making more headlines for their messy decisions than Donald and Ivana Trump.

a close up of text on a white background© Michael Campbell

The Trumps dominated headlines following Donald's high-profile affair with Marla Maples and his subsequent divorce from Ivana.

"The divorce was all over the paper, it was huge," Lyons said. "It was still a huge story, that they were fighting and they hated each other, and nobody would see them obviously together ever. They despised each other."

"We didn't think Donald and Ivana would say yes," Lyons continued. "Because they really did seem like they hated each other and they wouldn't do the spot. So, we were quite shocked when the phone rang back very quickly after we phoned the agent and said, 'Yeah. They're in.'"

The ad was filmed on a set designed to look like the Plaza Hotel, which Ivana had redecorated as president and Donald lost to bankruptcy in 1992. According to Michael Campbell, who worked on the ad with Lyons, the future president micromanaged the shoot all the way down to the lighting.

"Donald turns to me and goes, 'c'mere,' and looks over and says, 'I don't think the lighting is very good on Ivana,'" Campbell said. "And I said, 'Well what do you mean?" And he said, 'Well, look at her butt.'"

"I always said it was basically he was so critical about that because he was associated with her butt," Campbell added. "So, he didn't want anything that reflected on him to look bad."

The ad was a hit.

Pizza Hut executives said that customers began eating pizza crust-first, saying they were simply following the Trumps' example. Stuffed-crust added $300 million in sales at Pizza Hut its first year, quickly ballooning into a multibillion-dollar business for the chain.

Here's the ad, starring Donald Trump, that made stuffed crust a multibillion-dollar business for Pizza Hut:

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