The Visual Rhetoric of Frozen Pizza


In a business as competitive as the packaged food industry, a fair amount of money must be put into attracting, or persuading customers to purchase your brand. While there are several means of doing this, there is none so persistent as having well designed labels. So while there is certainly a genre style to frozen pizza boxes, I aim to compare and analyze how various companies differently use color, images, and typography to attract customers. I will refer to chromatic rhetoric research by Caivano and Lopez (2010), and Aristotle’s appeals to make my argument about color. I will also touch on Brumberger’s (2003) research to justify my positions about specific typeface choices.

Decisions, decisions…

Aristotelian Appeals

When studying rhetoric, one of the first analytical tools you are given is the Aristotelian appeals triangle. Each corner is a point upon which to hang arguments. And while Aristotle’s triangle is an incredibly old tool, it still proves useful when talking about the means of approaching audiences.

Aristotle’s appeals

The appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos roughly equate to credibility/authority, logical reasoning, and emotional ‘reasoning’.


Explaining ethos in Aristotelian rhetoric is tricky, because it’s not necessarily actual credibility that matters, but rather the appearance of credibility. I posit that the designers of frozen pizza boxes tend to make appeals on the appearance of credibility. Mainly this appearance of credibility takes the form of co-opting various Italian imagery to make brands seem authentic.


In their research into color as a rhetorical tool, Caivano and Lopez argue that cultures associate colors (and by extension groups of colors) to all kinds of things, up to and including nationalities. Just as red, white, and blue is closely related to the United States identity; green, white, and red are likewise related to Italy’s identity. So, in an effort to gain credibility (ethos), pizza box designers have left us with a color palette of green, white, and red in the grocer’s frozen food aisle. What’s interesting to recognize is that beyond using this color scheme, each individual color carries with it additional enthymematic meanings, so designers can “double-dip” meanings. That is, they can gain the association to Italy, and also have other chromatic enthymematic associations:
For example, green commonly carries with it a relation to freshness or nature. We can see the designers of the Newman’s Own label utilizing green to highlight their inclusion of natural ingredients, while also allowing the green pepper in the photos to stand out even more brightly.

Newman’s Own Pizza, a demonstration in pushing the “All Natural” angle

From an Aristotelian standpoint, one could argue this choice falls somewhere between logos and pathos. To illustrate this, I’ll apply deductive reasoning, also known as Aristotle’s enthymeme. Deductive reasoning follows this formula as described by Caivano and Lopez:

  • Rule: all X are P (this rule is omitted)
  • Case: A is X
  • Result: A is P

So for the example of green used in the Newman’s Own box:

  • Rule: fresh vegetables, nature = green (omitted)
  • Case: There is an abundance of green on this box.
  • Result: This box contains fresh, natural ingredients.

This approach should be effective if the audience Newman’s Own has targeted cares about premium ingredients. (Given the amount of visual and textual cues, this seems to be the case.)

Culturally, white carries several meanings. Caivano and Lopez suggest an association between white and purity, cleanliness, or neutrality. However, in relation to pizza, it conjures up images of gooey melted mozzarella.

Gino's East pizza box

Stringy melted cheese, and also note the use of white text on a red background.

And unsurprisingly when white is seen on frozen pizza boxes, it is usually depicting cheese or functioning as a text color. The choice of white as text makes a lot of visual design sense, as white on red offers good contrast and is therefore highly visible and recognizable from a distance.

White text on red background. High contrast for increased clarity and recognition.

As we shift our focus from whites to red, we can see red is the most commonly used color in the entire aisle. Beyond the connection to Italy’s flag, red carries with it other enthymematic meaning. On a subconscious level, red is an alarming color due to its association with blood. Therefore, a box that is predominantly red catches the eye. For the context of pizza however, red is also the color of ripe tomatoes.

  • Rule: delicious tomato sauce is red (omitted)
  • Case: This pizza box has lots of red
  • Result: This pizza has delicious tomato sauce

Additionally, across cultures, people associate red with heat.

  • Rule: hot things are red (omitted)
  • Case: This pizza box has lots of red
  • Result: Hot pizza awaits

I argue that a hot pizza is more appealing than a cold one, I think the pizza box designers are aware of all these associations, and therefore recognize the powerful rhetoric red provides.

grocery store frozen food section

So much red in the pizza aisle.

Another way pizza box designers attempt to prove authenticity and gain credibility is by co-opting things that seems “Italian”, let’s take for example the the stereotypical Italian chef that appears on several pizza brands.

Italian chef images

Rotund, mustached, and cheery. The Italian chef welcomes shoppers to purchase his wares.

He (and it’s always a he) appears a little round (never trust a skinny chef), wears a neckerchief, and sports a large mustache. This seems to be a mixture of both an ethos and pathos appeal. By using a chef that looks like that, the ethos appeal is fairly clear.

  • Rule: Italian chefs would make an authentic pizza (omitted)
  • Case: This pizza box depicts an italian chef
  • Result: The pizza is authentic

However, I suggested there is a pathos claim as well. I believe the enthymeme would look like this:

  • Rule: Italian chefs are would craft a pizza with care (omitted)
  • Case: This pizza box depicts an italian chef
  • Result: The pizza is was made with care


Eva Brumberger’s(2003) research about typography illustrated that people recognize various typefaces as having personalities. That is, the choice of typeface influences the “voice” in which text is read, and that readers identify whether or not a typeface is appropriate for the message delivered. Examples of inappropriate typeface uses include: using Comic Sans for scholarly work, or using Impact typeface for a wedding invitation. Readers recognize these mismatches, so picking the proper voice is important in delivering a message.

I believe that pizza branding shows clear examples of typeface selection designed to match audience expectations. First, Brumberger suggests that “direct” fonts are considered more serious. In her research this included Arial and Times New Roman as “direct” sanserif and serif typefaces, respectively. Typefaces that are more stylized, such as Bauhaus and CounselorScript we categorized as “friendly” and “elegant”.

Fist, let’s examine some “direct” serious typefaces. The choice of the bold serif typeface used on the DiGiorno box shown above is an attempt at establishing the brand as serious, or adult. Similarly, other brands that want to be seen as higher quality, top-shelf pizzas make use of similar typefaces.

However, the frozen pizza market is not just for adults, and as such “friendlier” typfaces are used on those brands. Most notably Totino’s and Tony’s brand pizzas have styles that are considered “script” typefaces. Typefaces that are less serious, and therefore are attempting to reach less serious consumers.

Indeed, both Tony’s and Totino’s are on the lower end of the cost scale as far as pizzas go, and they both tend to appeal to a younger demographic. DiGiorno’s, Bellatoria, and Freschetta are more costly and seem to appeal to an audience with more refined tastes. Thus the typefaces used for those brands follows the expectations one would have following Brumberger’s research.

Closing thoughts

Considerable time, effort, and expense is put into marketing for nearly all products. Convincing a consumer to purchase your product is a goal, but getting the right customer to purchase your product is an even better one. By using visual cues, the designers of frozen pizza boxes can dial in on the audience they want to hook. Designers attempt to persuade their chosen audience via the appearance of credibility with the clever use of color, selecting iconic imagery, and choosing proper typeface.

(my apologies to Gorgias)

By this discourse, I have tried to explain the reasoning behind the look of frozen pizza boxes. I have shown that color, imagery, and even typeface play a role in persuasion. I wanted to write this post; the visual rhetoric of frozen pizzas, and my plaything.


Brumberger, E. R. (2003). The rhetoric of typography: The awareness and impact of typeface appropriateness. Technical Communication(50)2. 224-231

Caivano, J. L., and Lopez, M. A. (2010). How Colour Rhetoric is Used to Persuade: Chromatic Argumentation in Visual Statements. Colour: Design & Creativity (5)11. 1-11

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