Pyramid Pizza closing brings memories of advertising schemes

Posted on Feb 11, 2020 in Campus News and News

Pyramid Pizza, a popular local pizza joint that endured various iterations, closed its doors last fall. Alumni and Lawrence residents mourned its passing and reminisced about Pyramid in a popular local Facebook group. Sean Williams, j’78, photographed many of Pyramid’s quirky advertising campaigns and shared some of his memories with us.

KU Cheer Squad with Pyramid Pizza boxes // photo courtesy of Sean Williams

I had a photography business shooting party pics for organized living groups on the KU campus. I also did ad shoots for Litwin’s, Pyramid and general mercenary work, including various KU political groups or individuals.

The photos for Pyramid merged my immersion in the fraternity, sorority and dorm life party pics business with pizza sales targeting that demographic. I frequently had extra photos from parties, and they would end up under glass at the Pyramid Pizza desk in the lower level of the Wagon Wheel Cafe.

John "Tan Man" Schneider on Wescoe Beach // courtesy of Sean Williams“We get it …”

I was studying advertising (and any photo course offering available), and Mark McKee, ’87, former owner of Pyramid, was practicing business and marketing. We collaborated on the “We get it …” ad campaign and had a blast imagining how to advertise Pyramid’s unique sales points as a way to “get it.” It seemed a relatively bold theme and we got a few clucking tongues from the administration, but we smiled and suggested that they get their minds out of the gutter because we were obviously talking about multiple methods of getting yummy pizza.

Tan Man” was featured in the first ad, as I recall, due to his enormous acceptance and fame with students, townsfolk, faculty, and all ages and persuasions. Tan Man “gets it whenever the sun shines …” Of course.

Late-night operators

I can’t remember all the other themes, but the “late-night operators” was my favorite. We staged the photographic shoot in a local veterinarian’s office (tight quarters) and used studio lights and detailed direction for the illustration (tilting the pizza and using a scalpel) to trumpet the availability after bar-closing hours.

Late night operators // Pyramid Pizza photo courtesy of Sean WilliamsShameless audacity

Mark’s chutzpah was most impressively displayed when he walked on stage at Allen Field House to deliver a pizza to Bob Hope, who was performing the KU Homecoming show in front of a packed house. Officials, audience members, and Hope himself thought that it was a planned part of the show, but it was just Mark, promoting that you could get it for a big event. Hope didn’t skip a beat, added a few jokes, and smoothed along. Mark and I both regretted that I didn’t have my camera in the audience and wasn’t assigned to shoot pics for KU that night.

I think KU officials reprimanded him for the photo of the KU cheer squad, taken before or after an organized practice (posing in a full squad pyramid with Pyramid Pizza boxes, they “get it in front of thousands …”). KU officials didn’t want the ads interpreted as an implied endorsement from the University, so I think he tamped that approach. In the meantime, the pizza’s popularity had taken off, Mark hired “Pizza Pete,” the locally famous manager of Pizza Hut, and advertising shifted to coupons and other themes.

Mark was an energetic, aggressive, positively ebullient and engaging personality driven to provide a great product in a popular fast food market in Lawrence. The Campus Hideaway, Green Pepper Pizza and other mom-and-pop shops arrived and disappeared while Pyramid expanded to Westport and multiple locations in Lawrence and elsewhere. Mark’s enthusiasm and drive for excellence prompted the success of the company, but as he launched into other ventures, quick-food competition exploded to put pressure on the Lawrence originals. Mark’s ardent promotion of Pyramid Pizza was truly the strong catalyst to Pyramid’s popularity as the primary meal choice for students who wanted to get it their way—one way or another.

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