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Special Project

Special Project
From the 16th Annual Shorty Awards

The Unhinged Story of Totino's Instagram Success With Gen-Z

Winner in Instagram Presence

Gold Honor in Meme, GIF, & Emojis

Entered in Food & Beverage


Totino’s is an innovator brand, originating the category of rolled, hot snacks that revolutionized the pizza-eating experience.

But the frozen aisle is getting more and more competitive as parents of teens begin to look to other categories for satiating snacks, leading to down sales for the brand last year.

To jump start Totino’s return to pizza-selling power, we set an objective to become the No.1 Frozen Pizza brand at shelf. Online, we set measures of success surrounding making meaningful connections with Gen-Z to make after-school snack time epic in order to drive talkability. Our measurement priorities revolve around doubling industry averages for food in beverage in engagement rate and share rate across all content. Oh yeah, and against all frozen pizza as well. Why not?

Overall, we set out to feed Gen-Z’s hunger for rule-bending entertainment and humor by making snack time a vibe.

If teens aren’t talking to their friends and their parents about Totino’s saying, “That’s weird, I need some of that,” then we haven’t done our job.

To truly entertain Gen-Z and drive talkability, you have to have a bit of a special sauce. And for the Totino’s brand that’s taking a joke and pushing it one step further.

Some might say we do it for the bit, we like to say we do it for the bite.

Strategy and Execution

We’ll tell our story of how our unhinged humor that fueled talkability through three distinct messaging themes:

Our strategy for this began with immersing ourselves in our Gen Z audience. Between reading the comments and countless hours of social listening, we started to bucket specific themes and topics of conversation that drew the most social commentary among our followers.

These molten-hot insights were simply too good to resist from cooling down, so we burned our proverbial tongue time and time again in new and unique ways that kept our Gen-Z audience coming back for more.


Pizza Rolls 🤝 dipping sauces. It’s a partnership as old as time!

But to stay true to our objective to drive constant talkability we knew we couldn’t just lean into the most popular dipping sauces.

So we found the most unhinged, highly debated sauce on the internet: mustard. This tangy yellow sauce helped us muster up one of our biggest wins of 2023 on organic social. After discovering its highly debated nature, we made it part of a focal point in a quick-turn execution riffing off one of the year’s most popular food trends: Girl Dinner. The inclusion resulted in insane organic results: over 5 million Instagram Reel views, over 1,200 comments and a staggering 29K shares. Now that’s getting our audience talking!


Partnerships fuel reach and buzz. So we continued to get lost in the sauce as we teamed up with West Coast hot sauce powerhouse Tapatío to build our follower base outside of the pizza roll pocket that is the Midwest. But this time instead of using the kind of sauce as our unhinged conversation starter, we went in on the amount used to get the shares rolling. We dipped, drizzled and drenched our way to a share per post rate that exceeded brand goals by 132%.


We know our Gen-Z audience creates some egregious meals for after school snacking. Trust us, we have searches to back this up.

So when we went to create our own content on ways to eat Totino’s, we went into the archives and kept things unhinged to open our audience’s eyes to the ‘what if.’ Gen-Z’s obsession with Diet Coke and ‘taking the edge off’ jokes got us thinking…. What if a DC with a pizza roll garnish was the perfect way to unwind after a long day at school?

Well, we messed around and found out. And over 100K people shared our post! Other out-of-the-box creations include boiled pizza rolls (a joke for legal reasons – thanks lawyers!!), racking up an engagement rate 184% higher than the brand goal with shares beating the brand goal by almost 2.7K%. And a candy-topped party pizza which resulted in an engagement rate 160% over the brand goal and a share rate 786% above the brand goal.



Last but certainly not least is the brand’s affinity for making Gen-Z laugh in a relatable way to how they’re experiencing flirting. That’s right, we took rizz head-on in our content, dubbing our voice as ChaRIZZmatic, and the results show our charm.

Our memes, fake text conversations, and immortalizing our pizza roll mascot Pete ZaRoll as a modern hearthrob have racked up thousands of comments about our hot, cheesy charm.

In the last six months, we’ve racked up five Instagram posts with engagement rates over 20%, over double the brand’s goal and over 20 times the industry average. Oh, and shares on those posts? They’re averaging 197% above our goal. That’s a lot.


The results are almost as shocking as the memes themselves. To start, Totino’s Instagram average engagement rate of 13.13% is 12.38% higher than the other top two frozen pizza brands in the category and +18.77% over our brand goal for the year. 

Aside from engagements, organic Instagram content has been reaching the masses with 4 Instagram reels with over 1 million organic views.

All this work building traction as Totino’s currently indexes highest among competitors within perception,
 leading the race for teens “asking my parents for” the product. With teens “asking parents for the product,” this has resulted in +1.2% YOY increase in sales overall for one retailer in specific, and a +9.9% increase in sales for for Totino’s largest retail size.


Video for The Unhinged Story of Totino's Instagram Success With Gen-Z

Entrant Company / Organization Name

The Social Lights, General Mills


Entry Credits