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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student

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Pizza Express "celebrates 20 years of rebellion" with prophylactics and Tootsie Rolls

Freshman Brittany Davis calmly chews on a Tootsie Roll, carefully crumpling the wrapper and adding it to the pile she's accumulated on the damp, carpeted bench she's sitting on. \n"I have to go to the bathroom," she says quietly.\nEasier said than done.\nDavis is quarantined in the Pizza Express van and decked out in the Express Man suit -- a red Lycra unitard, black Speedo, cape and pleather boots. She tugs at one of her bright yellow cuffs while waiting for her halftime debut at the Ellettsville High School football game.\n Davis' original plan for the evening was to answer phones at the campus Pizza Express, but she escaped her "monotonous" fate by volunteering to fill-in for Express Man without full knowledge of what it entailed.\n"I don't know what I got myself into, but I think it will be fun," Davis said. "It's certainly a change of events."\nPizza Express also didn't know what they were getting themselves into when, on a "whim and a prayer," they spent $14,000 to convert the company van into a "party van" and had a graduate student in theater design create a costume for Express Man.\nThey sent the dynamic duo out into the world in 1991 to maintain Pizza Express' hold on an increasingly saturated market. \nThe Express Man marketing "event" now happens almost every weekend once school starts, heading to schools, fundraisers and other local events. From 9 p.m. to midnight, it makes like a townie and cruises around with excessive bass and flashy lights.\nSenior Meghann Boone, marketing intern for One World Enterprises, gives Davis a quick overview of her duties as honorary Express Man: once the van pulls up in front of the crowd, she will get out, throw tootsie rolls, T-shirts and pass out a few pizzas.\n"Don't worry -- you'll feel like a rock star," Boone assures her.\nThe outside of the van looks like a rock star's … or Cheech and Chong's. \nMusky-smelling, milky-white smoke seeps from a fog machine inside, swirling out the windows and sunroof. The quick flickering of a strobe light temporarily illuminates the interior and the whole van is rattling uncontrollably from the four speakers blasting on the rooftop. \nUpon recognizing the Express Van, a group of boys stop playing football and swarm around it, begging for candy before the Official Distribution at halftime.\nTiny hands streak down the window as the boys peer into the tinted windows and beg for the Tootsie Rolls they know Boone is hiding inside.\n"They have candy in there and they're not sharing!" a boy howls. \nTo appease the tikes, Boone and Davis toss them a few pieces as the driver, senior Brian Sheikh, begins rolling onto the track. \nAlmost on 'E' as they make their way around the track to the packed cheering section, they pray the van won't run out of gas.\nOnce they pull up to the crowd, Davis hops out to distribute the gifts. Each one is greeted with more enthusiasm and less politeness.\nCradling an economy-size bag of Tootsie Rolls, she tosses handfuls of them at the crowd until they're all gone. Then she chucks t-shirts, which children all hop and push for. \nOnce they spot the boxes of pizza stashed in the van, Sheikh only has time to hand Davis one box before the kids in front literally climb over Davis into the driver's side window. \nAs she disappears under the sea of grasping fingers, Sheikh has no choice but to forfeit the pizzas being ripped out of his hands.\nFrom her vantage point on the ground, Davis said she witnessed a boy confiscate a box from another boy, then toss himself on top of it to make sure no one took it away; all while Edwin Starr's "War" played as an accompaniment.\nThe only item Davis fails to distribute to the G-rated audience is the most famous of Pizza Express' marketing ploys -- Lifestyle condoms.\nExpress Man gives roughly 500 assorted-color condoms, encased in a tiny envelope that has "Express yourself, but don't expose yourself" written on the front, and contact information for Planned Parenthood, the Monroe County Health Department and Public Health Nursing on back.\nFreshman Erin Marshall, who takes over for Davis at 10 p.m., has the honor of prophylactic distribution.\nShe's greeted like the adult version of the ice cream man -- with smiles and hesitant curiosity.\n"I'm getting paid to throw condoms at people; I can't complain," Marshall said.\nAlthough some struggled to make the connection between pizza and condoms, non-resident Jessica Andrews told Express "Man" it was great they were promoting safe sex.\n"(Pizza Express) already knows everyone does it, so they're acknowledging the problem and doing something to prevent STD's and all that stuff," Andrews said.\nThe brain behind this mobile marketing operation is Jeff Hamlin, chief operations officer of One World Enterprises, which owns Pizza Express, Lennie's, Bloomington Brewery Company and Pizza Mambo.\nCompetition doubled in two years with the arrival of Papa John's, Domino's and Noble Romans.\n"We could no longer stand on the merits of being a reasonably priced local business," Hamlin said. "The impact of national competition meant that businesses turned to discounting, and we filed right in tow. How in the world could we compete if we didn't?"\nThe company soon realized discounts would lower the quality of their product, so they decided to try something different. Equipped with a substantial marketing budget, Hamlin developed a strategy to reach customers personally instead of mass marketing to them.\nThe gimmick was originally targeted at IU undergraduates, but Pizza Express found it was an easy way to reach people of all ages.\n"Of all our marketing, Express Man has been absolutely the most effective," Hamlin said. "It's the most unique way to get out and literally touch our customers."\nMBA students did a study in 1997, which found 98 percent of students were likely to identify Express Man with the Pizza Express.\nDespite additional competition from Doughshack and Donatos, Pizza Express -- with its lycra-clad mascot and Big 10 deal -- still has the largest slice of the market.\nThe campus location alone sells 450 to 550 pizzas on weekends and 150 to 200 on weekdays.\n"In the face of these new challenges and competitors, we've decided to do the unthinkable and buy a few ads and have an anniversary special," Hamlin said. "We're going to get out in our 20th year and bang our drum and let people know that we're there"

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