When operators don’t bother making a statement with their boxes (other than “Pizza”), they miss out on a bevy of potential benefits that a smartly designed box can provide: connecting customers with the brand, boosting social media engagement, promoting return visits, and offering a point of differentiation for the pizzeria.

The big brands, unsurprisingly, have tapped into this tool. A Domino’s box presents a feast for the eyes—fun stats and facts, subtle advertising and games all jostle for space in a dynamic, visually appealing design. Papa John’s uses its box to drive customers to its website and tell the story of its “better ingredients.” Pizza Hut’s boxes have solicited charitable contributions to help end world hunger, or promoted online ordering and its rewards program.

How are your boxes serving you? If they’re little more than a cardboard vehicle for your pizzas, look no further than these expert-approved five ways you can boost their appeal—and your bottom line.


Change it up. 

At Picasso’s Pizza, based in Buffalo, New York, with five locations, each box struts its own personality. Though the company logo features prominently on all of them, different colors and designs are utilized for the party box, each pie size, slices, subs and wings. “The large box is so beautifully designed—a local artist drew the picture—you could frame it, while the party box is more fun-looking,” explains Larry Santora, who owns Picasso’s with his three brothers. “It’s something a little different that sets us apart, and with the volume we do, there isn’t any additional cost to have a different style for each box.” In the near future, Santora is looking to add a perforated component to the pizza and sub boxes so that a free dip can be slotted in—with the hopes that customers will order extras once they taste the pizzeria’s delectable homemade dressings.

Similarly, San Diego-based Woodstock’s Pizza seeks to target its audience of college students and create an element of surprise with one-of-a-kind box art by talented staff members. From time to time, pie slingers choose a box at random to adorn with pizza-related puns and artwork, then Woodstock’s posts a photo of the box on its Instagram account, encouraging the receiver to post his own photo with the box on social media. Then, each holiday season, Woodstock’s Pizza holds an annual Secret Santa Delivery program, where one box each week is illustrated with festive artwork and sent with a $25 gift card to the lucky winner, encouraging a return visit from the receiver.


Start a conversation. 

The 75-location Pie Five Pizza Company, based in The Colony, Texas, uses its boxes to subtly market its business in a lighthearted way. “We try to keep marketing elements, including our pizza boxes, conversational versus just stating facts, so, for example, we’ll highlight how our staff gets up in the morning to make fresh pizzas,” explains Christina Coy, VP of marketing for Pie Five. “That makes customers feel not marketed to, but tied to the business, making them want to be a part of it.” By telling your story—how you use fresh or seasonal ingredients, the history behind your secret sauce recipe, or why community involvement or eco-consciousness is important to you—customers get a close-up look into the human beings behind the brand, allowing them to forge a stronger connection.

Pie Five also uses its boxes to continue that conversation, soliciting customer comments so people feel engaged with the brand. Every side of the box sports its logo, name and contact info, including social media, website and email address. “We always try to tie it back to social media or our website, making the content relatable and giving them a reason to contact us, such as for promos or inside info,” McCoy says. “It’s a win for you and your brand.”


Boost the fun factor. 

Adding some humor, fun facts or games to your pizza box further encourages customers to engage with this oft-untapped marketing tool. “One of the prime targets of any marketing effort is to keep the brand’s name in the mind of the audience for a long time and keep the audience viewing the brand for longer periods,” says Andrei Vasilescu, CEO and digital marketing expert at DontPayFull in Bucharest, Romania. “A fun board game on the pizza box; different, interesting and amusing facts; or pizza-related quotes from popular personalities ensure your customers spend more time viewing your pizza boxes.”

Pie Five recently amped up the fun factor when it created smaller boxes for leftovers, now also used for breadsticks and kid-size pies. To please its younger guests, the box offers a maze while retaining key branding elements. And Pie Five’s sense of humor on regular-size boxes once even landed the brand a key social media mention: When Ellen DeGeneres was filming in Dallas, she posted a pic of the brand’s box featuring the tongue-in-cheek instructions, “Open box before eating pizza.”


Discount wisely. 

You can use your pizza boxes to offer discounts—but it’s wise to have a plan of attack for gauging their success. Louisa McGrath, content manager at Dublin-based Rebrandly, recommends including a branded link on the pizza box to drive traffic online, keeping the links short, memorable, visually appealing and, most importantly, trackable. “You can create a different link for each pizza box design to track the number of people coming to your site from each one, or even add UTM parameters (tags added to a URL) so that the traffic your pizza boxes drive will show up in Google Analytics,” McGrath explains. “Using branded links lets you know if your pizza box marketing is working, and you can always edit the destination URL. So, if you include a branded link like GiannisPizza.com/Deals, you can redirect this link to your latest weekly deal without needing to reprint boxes.”

Picasso’s uses a more traditional method, taping a menu to every box or bag that leaves the pizzeria, often with bounce-back offers via discount coupons. Alternatively, Lexi Montgomery, a brand marketing expert and owner of Darling Miami in Miami Beach, Florida, advocates creating an “email funnel that loops the user into a never-ending spider web of task/reward or a positive feedback loop,” she says. For example, your box can call for customers to sign up online for your email list or loyalty program to receive a discount or freebie with their next order, or you can invite them to post hashtagged pics of their pizza on social media to enter into a prize drawing.


Tap into promo power. 

Now with 56 locations, Your Pie, a fast-casual pizza brand based in Athens, Georgia, celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer with a savvy pizza box-centered promotion. The company released six artfully decorated boxes illustrating how the Your Pie story has unfolded over the last decade. Throughout the summer, customers were invited to share photos of their boxes on social media using the hashtag #expressyourinnerpizza to enter to win fun prizes, culminating in a $5,000 grand-prize trip to Ischia, the Italian island that inspired founder Drew French to start Your Pie 10 years ago. Other prizes included a trip to Florida for a one-of-a-kind tasting experience with GS Gelato, Your Pie’s Italian gelato purveyor; a Dine and Donate event benefiting the winner’s favorite local charity; and a custom, handmade outdoor table from Your Pie’s artisanal table vendor, Made in Monroe. Customers were also invited to learn more about the meaning behind each unique box at a special page on its website.

“To pull off this type of marketing campaign, I’d share a few tips,” French says. “First, incorporate a promotion to incentivize customer involvement; use the opportunity to showcase your brand through colorful, meaningful artwork; and incorporate social media to build an online presence.”

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.