In a marketing move that appears to be one part authenticity and two parts audacity, Domino’s Pizza is baring its soul and showing us the inner workings of their marketing department. We see their executives dismayed by the consumer research. We see their product development personnel diligently testing new recipes. Heck, there’s even a videotape of customers absolutely trashing their pizza in no uncertain terms: “Domino’s pizza crust to me is like cardboard” and “the sauce tastes like ketchup.”
You gotta give these guys props for fresh thinking. They’ve set aside the tired, old “New and improved!” and gone a giant step farther, with their new, apologetic campaign under the slogan “Oh, yes we did!”
Brands have won points in the past by admitting to being less than perfect. The Avis rental car company grew by leaps and bounds under the “We’re Number Two, So We Try Harder” campaign first introduced in 1962. VW often poked fun at its own shortcomings. More recently, Hardees rethought their burgers in public and GM admitted its flaws after receiving billions in bailout funds. Still, the Domino’s effort goes well beyond the typical wink and a bit of self-deprecating humor.
But how much risk did they really take?
First of all, this is take-out pizza we’re talking about. Changing the recipe is hardly about delicate culinary refinements. We order this stuff when we’re too busy, lazy or hungry to do anything else. We eat it out of the box. A typical appetizer before pizza is finishing that old bag of nachos. A typical dessert? Another beer. We eat a huge percentage of this stuff while watching sports, movies and re-runs of Two and Half Men. Pizza snobs (if you can find one) will tell you that if you want a really good pizza you’re going to find it at a local place.
Secondly, what’s the actual product here, pizza or delivery? There is no “dining experience” with Domino’s. You can pick it up, or they’ll deliver it. Period. Their brand is really focused on convenience. Tweaking the sauce and basting the crust with garlic butter doesn’t change the core brand. It’s about the “fast,” not the “food.” Their carryout competitor, Papa John’s, is the one that built its brand on taste around the long running slogan, “Better ingredients. Better pizza. Papa John’s.”
Lastly, this campaign may seem dangerous, but what does Domino’s have to lose? If you don’t buy their pies now, this is a pretty good way to generate trial. A redesigned pizza will get the attention of a certain category of customer. It gets a little trickier with existing customers, where even small changes can be discomforting to a brand loyalist. I’ve seen consumers insist that products taste dramatically different when all that was changed was the package design. Tropicana saw their sales drop 20% last year when they redesigned their carton and had to switch back to the old look to stop the losses.
But I suspect that Domino’s didn’t show us the video of product tests with a selection of loyal customers, who may have looked up from the football game long enough to say, “Dude, this tastes pretty good too, I guess.”
So the campaign is authentic, but is it really sincere? Was the focus group footage they showed us really so earth-shattering that they decided to tear up their recipes and start over? I have to say I doubt that their consumer feedback has suddenly taken a turn for the worse and that Domino’s felt compelled to respond. Their market share has remained steady over the last few years, so this isn’t some kind of Hail Mary to bring back the brand. No, I think their management is making a calculated move that has far less risk than they would like us to believe.
Which is not to say it won’t work.
A dose of humble pie may be good for Domino’s, especially at a time that consumers are looking for a little more transparency from corporate America. But we’ll have only our DVRs to protect us from an onslaught of me-too mea culpas if it does succeed. Let’s hope the next brand in line is really going to mean it.