Pizza Hut has devoted a lot of brainpower to helping us not having to think at all. After months of "retina scanning" and "psychological research," the pizza giant late last year rolled out "the world's first subconscious menu" at 300 U.K. locations.
The ingenious digital menu tracks your eye movements – give that pepperoni icon a glance longer than 2.5 seconds and it becomes part of your pizza order. Having second thoughts? Stare at the "restart" button and try again. There is no need to speak or interact with anyone whatsoever. This is an affair between your subconscious and close to 5,000 possible combinations.
But is the subconscious menu really the new frontier in food ordering or one of the most powerful marketing gimmicks that we've seen of late?
The answer is not surprisingly the former to David C. Novak, the chief executive of Yum! Brands, the conglomerate owner behind Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut. He told analysts last year, "Our goal is to not only catch the competition on the digital front, but to surpass it in 2015."
Locked in a fierce battle with chief rival Domino's, Pizza Hut hopes the subconscious menu will propel the company to the top of the digital kingdom. Domino's has to date proven to possess more digital acumen, especially after last summer's launch of a voice-ordering app that lets customers use their smartphones to place orders without having to speak to anyone but a computer. The company is also behind the less useful "Domino's Feed Me" invention, targeting Xbox gamers in the U.K; if the gamers want pizza, they simply speak those words and the voice-activated console takes care of the rest.
Although the subconscious menu, according to Pizza Hut, is a phenomenal mind reader – it supposedly gets it right as often as 98% of the time – an article in Scientific American questions whether eye-tracking software really can determine an unconscious pizza preference. It does after all assume there is a direct relationship between what we want and how long we look at things. People tend to be more complicated than that, the writer John M. Henderson argues.
Of course, people could use the system to purposefully stare at the desired icons, but once the novelty wears off, customers may ask themselves the same question as Henderson, "Why stare at a picture when you can just talk? After all, how hard is it to say 'pepperoni'"?
Based on the flood of publicity, however, Pizza Hut will benefit even if the subconscious menu never reaches the U.S. market. The thought of not having to think tickles the imagination of customers and provides ideal fodder for evening news casts and online commentary.
A writer for Popular Science, for example, speculates: "Are you a vegetarian with a forbidden craving for pepperoni? You can't hide your dirty little secret from this app." Another article, this one in the Washington Post, kicks off, "Ordering pizza by thinking and speaking words is so last century. Pizza Hut is now testing technology that allows diners to order within seconds, using only their eyes. The future!"
Now the questions are: What do you think? Are there ways that the supply chain can use its digital data to break new ground with potential customers?