Dominos Pizza Tries to Win by Being Average

The issues Dominios Pizza faced reflect the industry

Dominos Pizza

I think it quite funny that the news wires are buzzing over the new ad campaign launched by Domino’s Pizza brand last week. For those of us who just returned from Siberia and have missed all the fuss, Domino’s is running a series of ads that are the fast food equivalent of mia culpa.

The Washington Post describes the ads thusly —“For sheer corporate candor, it’s tough to beat Domino’s latest delivery. In its new TV commercial and Web video, the pizza chain admits something startling — namely, that its pizza is pretty terrible.”

” ‘Worst excuse for pizza I ever had,’ ” a company executive says grimly, quoting a customer’s comment. ” ‘Totally devoid of flavor.’ ” “Domino’s pizza crust to me is like cardboard,” says a woman in a clip taken from a focus-group panel.

Another employee, who appears near tears, reads another review: ” ‘The sauce tastes like ketchup.’ “

This is a way to win customers?

This all brings to mind something I learned many years ago in my lifelong quest to help companies steal market share — fix the problems you have in best practices before you attempt to influence target audience’s long-term purchasing behavior through an emotional brand intensity.

Should Domino’s have run these ads? Absolutely.

Dominos logo and Dominos PizzaThey are not alone in the pizza brand category when it comes to delivering an inferior product. Even in pizza branding, which seems to be as much a part of the American fiber as the hamburger and hot dog, we buy it often but that doesn’t mean we think it is good. (Just because Desperate Housewives was the most watched TV show last week doesn’t mean the American public believes it’s the best.)

The purchase of pizza has become a fallback choice for a meal when nothing has been planned for home cooking or when everyone in the family fails to agree on what they really want. “Let’s get pizza” becomes the mantra. It is rarely a choice based on a desire for epicurean delight. It is, for most Americans, a piecemeal (excuse the pun) meal.

(There are exceptions to this rule. Travel to Trenton, NJ, and try to get in the front door at De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies and you’ll see that, for a terrific product and an authentic ambiance, tomato pies is an event worth standing in line for.)

Domino’s Brand is on the right track

Acknowledge that the product is terrible (so is Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, and Pizzeria Uno) and that steps are being taken to correct this best business practice failing. Is this message a game changer?

Dominos Pizza CEOIt might be if no one else improves the product from barely eatable to superb. But the campaign hints at something that should force the entire restaurant category to pause: Consumers may begin to expect more from any company that promises to feed us beyond the accolade that “I feel full.”

My guess is that Domino’s brand is just the first domino to fall, so to speak, and that others will soon follow, giving De Lorenzo’s a run for its money.

However, best practices such as Quality and Goodness are only enough of a brand promise if everyone else in the category decides to still sell cardboard, ketchup and “cheese-food product” masquerading as authentic pizza.

It also only works if Domino’s truly does fulfill the brand promise. If it doesn’t, then it may go the way of Blockbuster Video, which promised no late fees only to actually charge them in a roundabout way.

When will the Game Change?

Dominos PizzaThe game changer will happen when any one of the competitors realize that a pizza that tastes good and is made from quality ingredients ought to be a table stake — the minimum requirement you need to be in the pizza business. The fact that this currently sounds like a differentiator tells us how lost the category has become.

Once fast food becomes quality fast food from the point of view of the consumer, something else needs to happen. The marketers need to address brand equity and the switching triggers that guide all purchasing decisions.

To uncover those, marketers will need more than a usage and attitudinal study that says our food stinks, our process is slow and our customers are unhappy. No, you need to figure out what is important in their lives and what emotional intensity they covet. The one that decides to do that will take the market share and the unshakable loyalty of those of us starved for experience — and, maybe, great pizza. (Here is another article we wrote about Dominos) 

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