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updated: 10/15/2012 9:56 AM

Pizza Hut rethinks presidential debate stunt

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Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Pizza Hut is rethinking its contest daring people to ask "Sausage or Pepperoni?" at the presidential debate Tuesday.

After the stunt triggered backlash last week, the company says it's moving the promotion online, where a contestant will be randomly selected to win free pizza for life.

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The pizza delivery chain had offered the prize -- a pie a week for 30 years or a check for $15,600 -- to anyone who posed the question to either President Barack Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney during the live Town Hall-style debate.

But blogs and media outlets immediately took the pizza delivery chain to task for trying to capitalize on the election buzz by injecting itself into the process.

A Pizza Hut spokesman says in an email that moving the contest online was a "natural progression of the campaign" after people got excited about the idea and "wished they could get in on it." Contestants must enter their email addresses on the site to be eligible.

The change comes after Pizza Hut's stunt became the butt of jokes last week.

In a segment on Comedy Central's "Colbert Report," host Stephen Colbert asked, "What could be more American than using our electoral process for product placement?"

Colbert said the prize for a free Pizza Hut pie every week meant that "if you eat one of their pizzas every week, you will die in 30 years."

The blog Gawker wrote about the stunt under the headline, "Want Free Pizza Hut Pizza for Life? Just Make a Mockery of the American Democratic System on Live TV." The site wrote that all the contestant had to do was "embarrass themselves on live television before the President of the United States and millions of their fellow Americans."

As TV audiences become increasingly resistant to traditional commercials, marketers have been looking for new ways to engage viewers. The presidential election presents a rare opportunity, with more Americans tuning in to the debates.

Earlier this month, an estimated 67.2 million people watched the first debate between Obama and Romney. That made it the largest TV audience for a presidential debate since 1992, according to Nielsen's ratings service.

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