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From their landmark first store at Parliament and Wellesley in 1967, to the invention of a heated delivery bag, advertising on the spines of Yellow Pages, and that ubiquitous 967-11-11 jingle, Pizza Pizza have always been mavericks of marketing pizza. With over 500 franchised stores, a successful expansion of the menu, and transformation of the in-store experience to be more like that of a restaurant, Pizza Pizza remains Toronto’s de facto pizza powerhouse despite the dubious quality of its food. But in the 1980s, they sure had some oddball TV commercials.

It’s easy to mock ’80s advertising, but this commercial was quite adept at achieving its primary visual (Toronto loves Pizza Pizza) and aural (967-11-11!) goals. The butt wiggling may be random, but that lady is on a stealth mission to meet her man and enjoy her slice. Note the intonation of 967-11-11 — in recent years it has been radically overhauled.

Worst of all were Pizza Pizza’s “Shirley” spots from 1988. Besides the fuzzy low budget vibe and irritating, sub-Ernest “Know what I mean, Vern?” character, these commercials never bothered to actually show any pizza (surely a huge over sight?), a failure at the most basic, advertising 101 level.

Things got back on track in ’89 with a series of ads which really emphasized Pizza Pizza’s home grown Ontario roots — the farm fresh ingredients, and the “timing” of the title, 30 minutes or free. Also, the ever important family angle (“the family who graze together stays together”) appears in both of these spots, as does actual pizza! Full disclosure — the second commercial was filmed at my parent’s house in Scarborough, and our family sheep dog Billy got a cameo, bless.

For some context of the times, here’s a truly atrocious 1989 pizza commercial from Buffalo which Toronto people saw courtesy of WUTV 29. There is simply so much wrong here it is actually a masterpiece of error, and it makes the Pizza Pizza spots look Kubrickian by comparison.

Pizza Pizza’s current advertising consists mostly of dry radio spots pitched by their chief marketing officer Pat Finelli (they could double up as a drinking game – take a shot whenever Finelli uses the word “fresh”), but long gone are the days of their strange TV commercials, the promise of free pizza if it took more than 30 minutes, and most worryingly, the original ear worming intonation of that breadwinning phone number.

Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at www.retrontario.com.

Photo by Gary J. Wood on Flickr