Dominos’ Dangerous Game

Pizza slice

Though it doesn’t happen often enough, I am always encouraged when advertisers invoke the truth in their marketing. So the recent Domino’s Pizza campaign caught my attention over the holidays. Living in a wheat-free household, I don’t order take-out pizza very often. But I’ve had my share of Domino’s pizza over the years, along with Papa John’s and Pizza Hut. I never harbored the notion that I was getting gourmet cuisine in that oil-soaked cardboard box, but I was always hungry before it showed up and not hungry afterward.

The premise of the campaign is that Domino’s corporate asked for and received customer feedback on the taste of their pizza. Well, the news was not good. And the TV commercials feature actual Domino’s employees recounting some of the negative feedback. They acknowledge it. And they talk about the action taken to combat their problems. This is accompanied by a guarantee that, if you don’t love it, you get your money back. In her article on AdWeek.com entitled Down on Domino’s: Honesty isn’t always the best policy, Barbara Lippert gives points for the idea of honesty but chastises the agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, for the style and the ultimate message. She seems to suggest that the execution is disingenuous and squanders the opportunity to truly change the brand image.

While I concede that everything she says in her article about the execution is true, I would disagree that the campaign misses its mark. Here’s why:

1.  We don’t expect Domino’s pizza to taste great. Like many mass consumer brands, the product here is more about meeting low expectations for taste while achieving some level of value. It’s quick, hot, and filling. Like most mass-marketed foods, the consumer expectation is not the same for premium brands and mass-market brands. Take beer, for example. Does the average Miller Lite drinker think his beer is going to win gold at the next World Beer Awards? They probably don’t care. They have an expectation that the product meets. But if a mass-marketed product has a public moment of honest criticism, followed by chest-thumping changes…it makes us curious. I haven’t had a Domino’s pizza in ages. And now…well…I’m interested in how it would taste.

2.  The public appreciates self-deprecating honesty. Pizza delivery sales were down 6% nationwide. Domino’s took the initiative to see what people thought of their product. But when you ask the question, you have to be ready for the answer. The campaign uses actual comments which are not at all flattering. And Domino’s shows their employees’ discomfort with the feedback. Then they tout some changes which are aimed directly at the criticism. We give credit for that kind of approach. I mean… we still got to Hugh Grant movies, don’t we?

3.  The public gives credit for “risky” and “bold.” In the back of our minds, we know that Domino’s could have taken the results of the study and done nothing. We know that change is hard. And possibly expensive when rolled out through a huge system like Domino’s franchises. It’s easy to see the campaign as taking a risk – or at least a bold step. And we give points for that. And those points can be exchanged for brand equity points if the public is willing to try your products as a result. More if they make you a customer of their product.

4.  The use of social media is a savvy move. Through Twitter and Facebook, Domino’s is using the recipe changes to take their brand to the people. And using YouTube they are making their case with a more in-depth story on the evolution of the changes. Of course they risk the wrath of jilted customers who liked the old recipe. And they risk the consternation of those who think they still missed the mark. But they created legitimate buzz and gave people outlets to keep the buzz going. It’s like the football coach who goes for it on fourth-and-two. If he makes it, he’s a genius. If he doesn’t, he’s a bum. But in this case, the world will see the reaction.

Sure, you can quibble with the execution of the new Domino’s campaign. But you can’t deny that there is a much greater presence for the brand now compared to the pre-campaign period. This attempt at brand reinvention could still fall flat. But Domino’s has a chance to make some noise in the marketplace, no matter how you slice it.

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Filed under Advertising & Marketing, Branding, Social media & branding

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