Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pizza Police

from Laura Ries:

Domino's Should Apologize


Everybody knows the rule. When you do something wrong, you say you are sorry. As a society we love to scold but we also love to forgive. And the simple act of just “saying” sorry goes a long way in righting many wrongs.

But how, when and why you say you are sorry also matters.

Say it too often and nobody will believe you anymore. Detroit has been begging for forgiveness for decades.

Say it with advertising instead of PR and it looks phony. JetBlue ran full-page ads saying it was embarrassed and sorry for holding passengers over six hours with no water on runways during an ice storm. Yeah, right.

Say it when you don’t have to and you create guilt where it may not have existed before. Domino’s current ads do just that. Domino’s goes out of its way to portray its guilt and lack of action for decades. And in the process mocks the stupidity of its customer base.

At its site, Pizza Turnaround Domino’s proudly asks and answers: “Did we actually face our critics and reinvent our pizza from the crust up? OH YES WE DID.”

And I say, OH NO YOU DIDN’T! The lack of brand and customer respect is astonishing.

In a display of contradictions, Domino’s admits it has been producing a horrible product for the past 40 years, devoid of flavor, taste, aroma and even “real” ingredients. Yet, they also brag about the obvious success of the brand.


Domino’s is the world’s #2 pizza chain with sales of $1.4 billion and almost 9,000 locations in more than 60 countries (5,000 of which are in the United States.) It must be some kind of miracle that a company could sell $1.4 billion worth of such a disguising product given the stiff competition. Somebody obviously liked the pizza.

When a brand faces a crisis, there is no doubt that an immediate public apology is best. During a crisis the flood of negative stories need to be countered with the sincere voice of the brand giving an open, honest, direct apology. Tiger Woods should have immediately apologized to his fans, his sponsors, and his wife. His silence cemented his guilt and lack of remorse.

Currently Domino’s is facing no immediate crisis on taste. There are no cardboard pizza protests or processed cheese boycotts in the headlines.

Winning the “taste” battle isn’t always even important. Many leading brands don’t win any taste challenges. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Starbucks to name a few.

Of course back in the spring of 2009, Domino’s did face a very real crisis when two idiots working in a North Carolina store posted vile and juvenile sandwich shenanigans on YouTube. Domino’s did the right thing by striking back with a message from CEO Patrick Doyle. It would have been better if his message was not pre-recorded, if Patrick had more television presence and if Domino’s had released it sooner. But hey, they tried.

But in this case, Domino’s took decades of customer criticism presented a federal case against itself creating its own media firestorm.

It reminds me of the commercials that launched New Coke. In the ads, Coca-Cola announced that the “Real Thing,” the most powerful brand in the world, wasn’t actually very tasty. So Coca-Cola was discontinuing it in favor of New Coke. Nobody said that the people running companies were always very smart. New Coke has gone down in history as one of the worst management decisions ever.


Well, “New” Domino’s might be a similar case. The worst thing you can do to an iconic brand is enact radical change. New Coke and the disastrous Tropicana repackaging show us that change (even positive change) is most often greeted with anger and resentment by the public and especially by loyal fans.

Consumers don’t want different. Customers don’t want to be surprised. As Holiday Inn used to say, “the best surprise is no surprise.” That is what strong brands deliver. No surprises. The same thing, the same look, time after time.

That doesn’t mean that a brand has to remain exactly the same forever. But it does mean that brands need to change very, very slowly and subtly. Coca-Cola has changed its original formula several times, but nobody notices. UPS has updated it logo several times, but nobody notices.

Sure, Domino’s needed to work on its quality, consistency, flavor and taste. But not all at once. Even worse than doing it all at once is the fact that Domino’s launched a massive television campaign and internet site to promote that the pizza has really sucked all these years.

Why was Domino’s successful in the first place? From watching the current ads, you would think it was because they got lucky and had stupid customers who had no taste in pizza and who were too lazy to look up another pizza place’s phone number. Wrong.

Domino’s was successful because it pioneered a new category in the mind. Domino’s focus on “delivery” allowed it to do delivery faster and cheaper than the competition. Domino’s burned its delivery focus into the mind with its simple and specific “30 minutes or its free” slogan.

The reality is that Domino’s real competition is not Pizza Hut or Papa John’s. The real competition of all the chains are the local pizzerias that still make up the bulk of the pizza market, only 35% of the market belongs to the big national brands. How are local brands different? Local brands emphasis local flavors and tastes.

You build a brand by being the opposite of the competition. To build an international chain, Domino’s pizza needed to a simple taste that everyone would enjoy. So Domino’s was rather bland on purpose.


And the truth is that many customers actually prefer a bland experience. It’s why kids like McDonald’s hamburgers, they are bland. And it’s why McDonald’s is the world’s largest restaurant chain.

What Domino’s is currently doing to one of the world’s greatest brands is criminal. Domino’s definitely owes us all an apology, but not for the taste of its pizza. Domino’s needs to apologize for its foolish brand strategy.

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