A Debate on the Domino's Pizza Self-Loathing Marketing Strategy - Part 2

half of a pizza prima restaurant equipment

This is the second and final part of the Domino's Marketing Debate going on between myself and one of our other employees here at Prima. We have had lots of fun with this in the office and trust you have enjoyed it as well. In this last post, Daniel and I will give our responses to each other's previous arguments, and then briefly conclude our points. In case you missed the first one, please go and read it first here: "A Debate on the Domino's Pizza Self-Loathing Marketing Strategy - Part 1"

Good pizza makes happy customers

Daniel's Response & Closing Argument:

My response to the opposing position will be based off my first three main points from our last post. I will take several statements Kirk made and show where I differ. I see no reason to say that their new marketing campaign was unnecessary or even harmful. The facts show that it has been two or so years since they launched their new “authenticity” strategy with no signs of slowing down.

  1. My first point from our opening debate remains that Domino’s new marketing has set them up to improve. The Kirk position states, “with a strong controversial campaign like this, you are raising the expectations of your critics to an unrealistic level and declaring the loyalty of your fans to be misled.” I would say the opposite. Domino’s changed because, not in spite, of loyal fans. Because of their marketed low point, they now work from the ground up. As long as their pizza tastes better than the old stuff they would be doing something right. In addition, they gained trust for admitting such poor business practice over the years. And as I argued in the last post, this strategy of honesty has effectively changed Domino’s corporate thinking forever.

    The Kirk hypothesis quoted an advertiser as saying that “disdain and revenge” can occur when product advertisement is great. First, based off this, perhaps Domino’s really hasn’t marketed their product that well. At least, I haven’t seen anyone blowing up a Domino’s cal-zone with bottle rockets or dumping gasoline on one hundred stolen Domino’s pizza boxes. Someone out there is still buying their pizza and the online reviews prove it. Second, it is just pizza! This is not a hospital apologizing for years of bio-hazard chemical exposure. It’s food that is cheap, comforting, and generally unhealthy. A customer that actually becomes bitter and resentful toward a meal costing under ten dollars is not the kind of person a company wants buying their product in the first place. There will always be a flow of old customers going out and new ones coming in. Domino’s new options and new marketing gave them a fresh start and made cheese, dough, and sauce a bigger deal than it has ever been in a positive way.

  2. My second point states that their marketing has caused unprecedented exposure and growth. The Kirk proposal argues, “Any actual growth in market for Domino’s is because of the recipe change, and not because of this specific marketing.” But why not both? Recently, Nation’s Restaurant News reported that a Domino’s executive “added that he would keep the emphasis on the brand and its products, rather than fall back on marketing tie-ins, because he considered that ‘borrowing equity’ from some other brand and not emphasizing Domino’s strengths.” From the above statement, they apparently see marketing as helpful in driving more sales, while at the same time they truly believe that their pizza sells because it is good. The two are not in conflict. Domino’s still promotes live good and bad tweets from customers on their Times Square Tracker Billboard to show their “authenticity” and to advertise the pizza itself (and conveniently holds stores and even individual employees personal accountable at the same time). Clearly, they used the whole “authenticity/honesty” marketing to cause unprecedented exposure and interest for the purpose of displaying their new pizza. Both of these new ventures have caused considerable, actual growth.

    The Kirk theory also states, “customers are more likely to be attracted to a pizza everyone is talking about rather than one they were told to try with an advertising campaign.” Sure, if a friend recommends a blog or movie to me, I will be more likely to consider it than if I just watched a commercial. But let’s be honest, American culture is addicted to conspiracy, shock and scandal. Everyone has heard the old “We have a new, improved product!” spiel. It’s antiquated and boring. Toss a spin on it by coming clean about your faults and you will have people talking. And, very significantly, no one is debating about Papa John’s or Pizza Hut’s recent decisions because no one really knows what decisions they are currently making. Unlike its competitors, Domino’s decisions from the corporate office to the customer are stated and are the driving force behind their successful marketing and growth.

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  3. My final point remains that Domino’s left side of the brain “woke up.” For years they must have assumed that since they were the fastest delivery business out there people would still buy their pizza. After profit loss and a new CEO, they realized it was time for a drastic change. "For so long," [a Domino’s Representative] says, "we've been perceived as a brand with excellent delivery service...and we want our taste and pizza perception to begin to match that." Their desire to be the best pizza around fueled the extreme marketing decisions. The Kirk claim concludes by stating that “Domino’s unnecessarily complicated things with an overwhelmingly negative focus.” But not all of their campaign was directed toward negative marketing. Here is a link to an article from early in 2010 which mentions nothing about Domino’s having a negative focus. Their marketing was not exclusively negative. However, the negative marketing has opened avenues for pushing new products much more easily. “‘The [Artisan Pizza] launch would have been difficult to do if we didn’t make this statement two years ago as a brand’” (Entire article). Ever since their change they have capitalized on this massive fault through new, innovative marketing that is now ahead of the curve in the pizza delivery world.

Domino’s has paved a new way for pizza delivery to travel. They have pioneered new, technologically advanced products and services. They have moved themselves from the bottom of the pizza chain to the near top as actual competitors in the category of taste while already winning in the delivery category. Their unprecedented advertising has caused wide spread exposure and sustained growth. Domino’s is sharper, faster and more creative than ever as they continually re-invent their strategy. And, as stated in my first argument, “All in all, Domino’s itself was most informed and changed by their daring marketing plan, which was a hard but valuable lesson to learn.” Because they dropped the myth that they were something, they were finally able to admit corporate irresponsibly and show everyone specific change.

Were they too honest about their past mistakes? Maybe. Have they incited rage and hatred for “duping” loyal consumers? Probably not. Could they have spread organically and accomplished these same results without the negativity? Doubt it, sounds too boring. Domino’s intentionally planned this for quite some time. They dropped the faulty thinking by actually starting to think. They studied American culture, realized that many people go for shock value and love to hear a company’s messy secrets, and decided to lay their cards on the table. What has it given them? More authenticity, more loyal fans, better store to store accountability, and a significantly better pizza pie.

Good pizza makes happy customers

Kirk's Response & Closing Argument:

It was interesting to notice in reading over Daniel’s initial argument that I agree with many of the points he made. I agree that the Domino’s app is genius, I mean seriously genius. Who wouldn’t want to play a fun and challenging game and then order the result of that game?! Brilliant (especially since I suspect most of those orders end up being pricier pizzas since toppings are so much fun to put on ;)!!! I also agree that Australia’s success with free-range chicken use and other innovative ideas is a great thing. I agree that these new marketing techniques were great and needed. But could they have accomplished all of that without the negative focus? Is it possible that Domino’s could have achieved all of this marketing and social reach with more of a positive "we’ve made our pizza even better" theme rather than a "we really stunk in the past, but are good now, you shouldn’t have trusted us then but you should trust us now?"

*sigh* Here’s my problem, however, the more I have done research for this blog, the more it has become blatantly and irrevocably obvious that the problem was really not with the marketing. Ok, I know the point of this debate was to identify whether the negative “personal smear” campaign was the better road to take, but I cannot get over the real issue here. It would be foolish of us to spend an entire two blogposts without focusing on the real issue. The real issue here is that for years, the Domino’s leadership failed. They failed to quality control. They failed to ensure that the leadership of every single store was on track with the Domino’s that started out. Let’s be brutally honest here for a second. The real problem of Domino’s was not its recipe. The real problem was its leadership and quality control.

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Here’s where I should probably come clean. I was a shift manager at a Domino’s for a year during college. It has been fun to not only write from an outside marketing perspective, but to also remember the days of helping prepare the pizzas of this well known chain (honestly, I always liked the food when I worked there :). That being said, I did try my first regular Domino’s pizza in years this last week (even I grew curious with this blogpost) and I do have to admit that I felt it was an improvement in recipe. It wasn’t an unbelievable pizza (I must say that we have too many amazing local pizza places here in Louisville and they have heightened my taste for great pizza :) but it wasn’t bad and it was better than it used to be. So how can I say that the issue was quality control? Because really, people still enjoyed (for the most part) the old Domino’s recipe when it was fresh and hot and made like it should have been. Honestly, a large amount of the complaints that I observed about the old recipe had more to do with poor preparation then the recipe itself (“cold pizza!” “bubbly crust!” “not enough cheese!” etc). This is partially why I believe the big issue here is not that the pizza was SO bad, but that its preparation was not enforced on a national level and therefore over time turned into the massive problem it was. Since the management from the top down did not enforce its preparation, it was not prepared carefully from the bottom up... and everyone knew it. Should they have also been concerned about making an even better pizza? Absolutely, but I maintain that the reason it became such a big problem was not solely because of the recipe itself.

So what does this have to do with this post? Well, based upon the management and quality control being the real problem and not specifically the recipe, I believe I have understood why Domino’s has focused so much on its change in recipe and therefore, why my original idea of positive marketing around the change in recipe may not have been the best idea after all. If the real issue is quality control and management, then it is only right for the management themselves, from the top down, to own up to their mistakes and do the work to change things. In other words. To be honest and to own up to their mistakes. And that is why the negative campaign (and really, the honest one as others have pointed out) was really the best route to go in this specific situation. Yes, I know. I’m not allowed to change positons in the middle of a debate and it shows bad form and all that. But I can’t help it. Even with positive marketing, I believe now that a change in recipe would not have effected the same swing in popular opinion because the recipe was not the big-picture issue. I respect Domino’s more for what I believe to actually be an incredibly perceptive and genuine decision, and not just a marketing ploy like I originally thought.

At the end of the day, if you have learned anything from our miniature debate (that I completely ruined in the end... and no, I promise I was not planning this from the beginning!) please get this: Domino’s had years and years to enforce its quality standards and ensure that customers were being pleased. When it became apparent that they were not pleased many times, they had more years to listen and change. They didn’t. This is why we are having this discussion. So do your customers a favor and instead of deciding which of these two options would be best for your company, please listen to your customers (take a poll, call some of them, ask them while walking out of your doors) and enforce the quality that you do have, while always striving to provide a better product and experience for all.

What do YOU Think?

Thoughts on this? What is your take on the matter? Do you still believe Domino’s should have not branded themselves so negatively? Please share with us in the comments below!