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How Domino’s Saved their Company with Innovative Marketing

This is a transcript from the full 15 minute podcast, which can be found here:

https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/solvis-media/episodes/How-Dominos-Saved-Their-Company-e2kfspc

This is the story of how Domino’s saved their company with innovative, authentic and transparent marketing.

I think this is one of the most memorable ad campaigns in my lifetime. 

Domino’s pizza actually ranked last in customer favorability, behind Chuck E. Cheese. This was back in 2008. People preferred to go to Chuck E. Cheese for pizza rather than Domino’s. (No disrespect to Chuck E. Cheese either)

This article is going to be about how the marketing really helped the comeback. Obviously, the pizza was completely changed. They took a very bold approach and said, “Hey, our pizza sucked. It was not good.” And it worked out for them. I love when companies roll the dice on campaigns that might be a little out of the ordinary. 

When you put your CEO in front of the camera and go to customers’ homes, or read customer feedback that said, “Our pizza tastes like a cardboard box,” that’s a really bold thing to admit. Saying, “Hey, our pizza sucked. And now they don’t. And now you should come check us out. Come check out the new pizza.”

It worked out!

When your company is dying, you could slowly die out and cash out your last couple of checks as a leader, or you can take a bold new approach and transform the brand and create something entirely new. That’s what Domino’s did. 

They completely reinvented themselves. 

The Problem

Some background, in 2008, Domino’s was falling apart, the stock was in the toilet, and they were not doing very well. In 2008, they ranked last in pizza favorability. Today, they rank number one in pizza favorability (among pizza chains throughout the entire United States). In 2008, their market cap was 226 million, today, their market cap is 17.73 billion. 

How did they do this? I’m going to focus mostly on the pizza turnaround campaign. It’s one of my favorite marketing campaigns of all time because it was very self-aware and honest. I really appreciate that when it comes to advertising, and it saved Domino’s.

Beginnings

First, they looked inward and did a lot of focus groups. They got some pretty negative reviews. What they found was that people weren’t just indifferent to the Domino’s brand. Some had very strong emotions towards it, which they actually liked. It’s better to have some haters rather than people who are indifferent because it’s still a strong emotion. They could turn those haters around because they still care. If people didn’t care about the Domino’s brand, there would be no haters. They looked at that as a positive and said, “Okay, people absolutely hate our pizza.” It was to the point where they looked at some of their criticism. One customer said, “Where’s the love? It doesn’t feel like there’s much love in this pizza.” Some people said it’s like cardboard. Others said it’s the worst excuse for pizza ever.

They had some of the leadership team read these poor reviews in their ads, which was awesome. The CEO said “you could either use negative comments to get you down or use them to energize you to create a better pizza.” And that’s exactly what they did. They developed a brand-new pizza, and it took them seven months to do it, which is incredible considering how big of a brand and how many franchises there are of Domino’s.

After they did this, they unleashed a fantastic advertising campaign, mainly on TV, using video. In the quarter after that, they saw a 14.3% same-store sales growth, which is record-breaking. The campaign was so good that it had the highest score of all time among all ad campaigns in consumer favorability. People loved the campaign.

The Pizza Turnaround Campaign

So, they had this whole thing called “Pizza Turnaround.” I have here a lot of quotes from the ad campaign itself. They had the CEO and the leadership team, PR personnel, the Chief Marketing Officer, and the main chefs behind the pizza all on camera talking about the criticism and the fact that they really care about the company and wanted to get better.

They started the campaign by talking about the history of the company. They showed the first car Domino’s used for pizza delivery, which was awesome. The CEO was the narrator, walking through a little Domino’s museum. He said, “We faced the criticism head-on. We want people to love our pizza.” The pizza chef said, “We had to start over with a new recipe. We changed everything. This is a new sauce, new crust, new cheese. That’s what pizza should taste like. I can’t wait for people to try our new pizza.” It felt super genuine and honest in the ad.

Before all that, they had the Chief Marketing Officer, a franchise owner, the PR director, and the CEO read very poor reviews. They filmed a real focus group where customers talked about how bad the pizza was and used this in their advertising. One customer said, “Where’s the love? It doesn’t feel like there’s much love in this pizza. It’s like cardboard.” 

The Chief Marketing Officer had all these complaints written out. She read one that a person said “it’s the worst excuse for pizza ever.” The franchise owner said, “A customer said the sauce tastes like ketchup.” The PR director said the cardboard complaint was the most common one. The chef said it hit him in the heart after 25 years of doing this. There was a genuine connection between the main pizza chef, leadership, and the customers.

The CEO said “you could either use negative comments to get you down or use them to energize you to create a better pizza.” 

Getting a second chance

Obviously, there’s this great synergy between product and marketing. Could they have done this marketing campaign without rejuvenating and revitalizing their pizza? No. Not at all. 

The CEO said, “we swallowed our pride, admitted we sucked, and it was time for a change.” They did a lot of focus groups. They wanted customers to give them a second chance. That was one of their main questions when coming up with this campaign: “how do you ask customers to give us a second chance?”

They said, “We’re going to become a truly transparent brand and begin a never-ending mission of improvement.”

The CEO said we had to make a change, and we decided to tell the story in the most honest way we could to customers. The result was fantastic. In this massive pizza turnaround campaign, the next ads were a follow-up where they admitted their wrongdoing. 

Then they followed this up and by going to the customers’ doors with the pizza and had them try it. 

Show Us Your Pizza

They did a “show us your pizza” campaign. The CEO said, we aim to become a truly transparent brand and begin a never-ending mission of improvement. This campaign built on that. They called it “food transparency thing.” In 2011, they wanted customers to take pictures of their pizza.

They vowed not to doctor images in the future. Food companies love to doctor images for promotional materials, but they promised they wouldn’t. Customers submitted 40,000 images to the website, and everyone was able to view them. 

Behind the Pizza

Then they followed up with something called Behind the Pizza, which is like a “how it’s made” deal.

They went to the supply chain and brought customers there. They filmed everything at the supply chain, the farms, etc. People spent on average about 20 minutes online watching these mini documentaries, which is awesome. A lot of brands are starting to do this. It’s called branded video content. It’s wonderful, especially with YouTube.

The CEO was out in front of it. They focused heavily on television and video. In my view, they couldn’t have done it any other way without video. It’s a powerful campaign, and I love it.

Conclusion 

We can take some of the authenticity, directness, self-awareness, and transparency they used and apply it to our own companies.

How do we apply it? Video is key. Involve customers big time. Don’t be afraid to be bold. They were radically transparent in all their advertising. As a video production professional, I produce phenomenal video content for authentic companies and brands. This campaign would not have been possible without video. 

I suggest being more out front and open in your marketing if you’re a CEO or founder and want to take that direction, if it’s right for your brand. For example, with videos, I want to do a ‘behind-the-scenes’ eventually. It’s funny filming a video of me filming videos. It would be very meta—a behind-the-scenes of a behind-the-scenes making of behind-the-scenes.

Involve customers. Go into your supply chain, talk with people who influence your brand, and bring customers fully behind the scenes. Case study customer testimonial videos are also key. Video was crucial in making this campaign happen. It couldn’t have been done with just text or photography. Be transparent. Bring yourself and leadership forward in the campaigns. Document everything and involve customers big time. 

Finally: Don’t be afraid to be bold. 

If you got something out of this, please share it with your friends, marketing professionals, and business owners. We’re trying to build a great community, and it’s just getting started. See you next week.

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