At first glance, the commercial seemed like an SNL parody: we know consumers think our pizza sucks, but good news, we’ve totally changed the recipe and there’s even a money-back guarantee, so please buy one today!
However, it’s no joke. Domino’s Pizza has just launched an incredible new marketing campaign for its reformulated pizza.
It’s really startling. Why would the number one US pizza delivery company highlight that consumers think its product tastes like “cardboard?”
Domino’s is making money but not with topline growth. Net income for the first three-quarters of 2009 was up 31% versus 2008 and CEO David Brandon commented that “we are now in a position to invest in our business” and to “invest in our marketing.” However, domestic same store sales were flat and total domestic retail sales dropped 1.6% in the 3rd Quarter. This followed a similar 2nd Quarter during which domestic same store sales declined 0.7% and total domestic retail sales fell 2.0%. Recognizing the topline weakness, the company noted that traffic growth was key to restore excitement in the brand, and that it would rely on product platforms instead of products-of-the-month (November investor presentation).
The competitive landscape likely factored into Domino’s decision to reboot its pizza. For example, Papa Johns has had a long-running campaign for better taste (“Better Ingredients. Better Pizza”). Pizza Hut, “the world’s largest pizza restaurant company,” continues to be an aggressive marketer. And, importantly, the revamped pizza may have been a focal point to galvanize the entire Domino’s network during the company’s 50th anniversary. Whatever the motivation, the marketing execution is noteworthy. The television commercial and Web site “Pizza Turnaround Documentary” both tell a story of negative consumer feedback from focus groups, Twitter, blogs, etc., interspersed with reactions from the President, Marketing Director, Product Manager and Chefs. Watch here.
Give Domino’s a lot of credit. Marketing Director Karen Kaiser actually holds up a sheet of paper referencing the cardboard taste comment. She later says, “We want people to love our pizza.” Then the chefs show us how they changed the crust, sauce and cheese. One chef passionately describes how this has been his life for 25 years. The whole approach is very clever. Domino’s uses real employees to engage consumers and tell its story head-on, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and comes across as real and genuine as a giant corporation can in such a situation. It’s almost as if the company is now in the role of underdog, especially when a Product Manager is asked if it’s hard to deal with all the negative feedback and you see her pained response. There’s even a Hollywood-esque ending to the Web documentary.
Domino’s provides us with a case study example that being direct and intellectually honest with your customers can be a winning play, if done properly. They listened, did their homework, came up with a solution, and even better, devised a super creative and fun way to broadcast the news to consumers. The campaign is also a terrific example of how to effectively use employees in communication efforts. Just one thing, though. If the pizza still tastes like cardboard . . .
Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.