Domino’s Pizza makes a crust from eating humble pie

Does brutal honesty with the customer ever pay off? It does, if Domino’s Pizza is anything to go by.

Tired of being the butt of popular jokes about the lamentable quality of its ingredients, Domino’s decided to introduce a fully fledged overhaul of its product late last year. As even the most junior student of marketing – citing Coca-Cola – will tell you, changing the recipe is one of the most dangerous expedients a marketer can embark upon.

Not content with this, however, Domino’s upped the ante against itself by fanfaring its pizza relaunch with an advertising campaign that rubbished the company’s previous product quality. The “We stink” campaign admitted the old crust tasted like cardboard and the sauce like ketchup; and that its staff were fed up with customers trashing the food.

Now for the first time we can judge the results. In the first quarter of this year, US sales at stores open for more than a year soared an astonishing 14.3%. Not exactly a new-Coke style disaster. Actually, as Domino’s chief marketing officer Russell Weiner pointed out to BNET some months ago, the Coke parallel is a bit misleading. Domino’s has never been successful on account of its taste. The core brand values are in fact convenience, low price and reliability. Even so, the brand communications strategy was clearly a risk.

So far the campaign has run exclusively in the USA, where its mood has provided a nice counterpoint to the singular lack of Wall street contrition over Main Street fall-out from the world financial crisis. A little humility, it seems, can play remarkably well.

We have yet to discover whether the new marcoms formula is for export. There certainly seems scope for applying it to other troubled brands. The Chicago Tribune suggests BP could retrieve a smidgin of its reputation from eating humble pie. Judging from today’s plunging share price, it may be too late for such remedies. Maybe BA’s not too far gone to profit, though. It should run a campaign this autumn along the lines of: “We know you know. Up to now, we’ve been rubbish…”

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