Friday, 6 April 2012

Inspired by critics, Domino's Pizza turns its image around using social media

Domino's Pizza President Patrick Doyle would never have guessed that two employees of the pizza company would plunge his 50-year old brand into the public dock by shooting a video of themselves doing disgusting things with pizza and sharing the video on YouTube. As would be expected, customers of the 9000-restaurant chain were enraged by the video and they did not hide it.

Determined to rebuild the customers' trust, America’s largest pizza delivery company's President made a public apology on YouTube and soon after launched the Pizza Turnaround Campaign based on a 'come-what-may-approach' that few agencies would be bold enough to try. The campaign designed by Domino's Agency Crispin Porter and Bogusky put the brand through a self-deprecating process in which consumers gave their bare-knuckle comments about Domino's pizza in focus group discussions. The comments were shared on a video on YouTube. 

Domino's Pizza took the campaign a step further and put up a giant billboard at a famousintersection in Manhattan, allowing any customer who ordered food using the Domino’s Pizza Tracker the opportunity to share their feedback with hundreds of thousands of Manhattan pedestriansand with other people around the world through a web video feed. No comments were excluded no matter how negative. The Tracker enabled customers who submitted their orders online to track their food from the oven to their front door. Once the delivery was made, customers could rate their experience and leave comments for restaurant staff. The Times Square tracker ran for two hours and 54 minutes a day, and pulled in approximately 700 comments at a rate of four per minute.

Domino's Pizza did not just collate and file away the comments the Company received. The Company used the criticism to reinvent their pizza and to improve the quality of their food, restaurants and services. At the launch of the campaign on a YouTube video, Doyle had noted, 'You could use negative comments to get you down or you could use them to excite you and energise your processes of making better pizza.' Obviously, Domino's Pizza chose the latter approach.

Domino's Pizza brand reinvention campaign is a classical case of the dictum, 'the more things change, the more they remain the same.' Porter Novelli (PN), a global agency with specialisms in brand building and brand marketing underscores this and points out that knowing how to 'do digital' for its own sake is far from enough. According to PN, brands achieve most success if they combine social media survey with human insights.

This is exactly what Russell Weiner leaned on to generate Domino's successful campaign. Initial research had indicated that American consumers 'yearned to hear the truth at a time when banks were collapsing, wall street and detroit were imploding and confidence in corporations, politicians and
authoritative figures had sunk to all-time low.' Weiner used these insights in the Turnaround Pizza
Campaign to show the world that admitting to the negatives of your product can lead to positive reaction. The campaign paid off handsomely. Same-store sales growth increased by 10.4% between 2009 and 2010 and were up by another 2.3% during the first quarter of 2011.

Public Relations has always been about understanding people and what influences them, no matter the medium used. New media tools now provide organisations with new ways to listen to consumers and for consumers to initiate communication with organisastions. According to Grunig and Grunig, because of of their interactive nature 'new media make it possible than before to have a two-way balanced dialogue with publics. The Turnaround Pizza campaign demonstrates how dialogue helped to alter both the brand's and consumers' attitudes and behaviour towards each other, and the eventual impact on the brand's relationship with the consumers.

Domino's Pizza's continued strive for transparency since the 2009 incident is proof of new media's
ability to contribute to organisation's behaviour and improvement of its relationships with its consumers.


  1. I think this was a very bold move by Domino’s and one that not many companies would risk undertaking. However, when you think about it, it seems an almost obvious decision to take in this consumer-driven age. Dissatisfied consumers are going to make their views known anyway so why not facilitate a conversation with company representatives who can then take the appropriate steps.

    Many companies hide from, or ignore, negative comments but Domino’s seemed to welcome them and then use them to improve their product. It must have been hard, especially for those who actually make the pizza, to hear their product constantly referred to as “cardboard” but it seemed to be just what they needed to reinvent their recipe.

    Still, I believe there are situations in which such an initiative could backfire. For example, people who didn’t have strong negative views before may now decide to lodge complaints simply because it seems everyone else has a complaint, and moreover, the organization is willing to listen. Secondly the fact that Domino’s was still in business meant that there were some people who had few, or even no, problems. The reinvention of the recipe may satisfy one group of people but it may also drive away previously loyal customers who were happy with the old recipe.

    I see the value of engaging publics and addressing their concerns and it is evident that this move worked for Domino’s. However, I would caution PR practitioners to be careful when implementing similar tactics since not every case may be as successful as this one.

  2. I must disagree with you here Natasha... it has been portrayed how Domino’s pizza has indeed managed to handle the communication flow in an appropriate manner, which should be an example for other companies. Transparency is key.
    Nowadays with convergent media, wikileaks, telephone tapping, governmental scandals.. All these are there to show us what the publics want is an honest organisation that manages to give them what they want. Domino’s Pizza have managed to do this.
    Don’t get me wrong it is not my belief that any organisation can do as Domino’s Pizza did and they would be successful. It also depends on the relationship they have with their customers. The company restored its image not through Beniot’s Image Restoration Theory - it skipped denial and when straight to acceptance and apology.

  3. Thank you Natasha and enlightenedflack for your comments. I concur with both of your views that Domino's move was certainly no mean feat. I think it was a huge but worthwhile PR gamble. When you think about it, Domino's exploited some of the key characteristics of social media as described by Phillips and Young to its full advantage. By embracing all the risks of radical transparency and considered porosity (which include but are not limited to loss of consumer confidence and market share to a readiness to bearing it all on the internet), the same internet community rewarded Domino's with 'richness and reach' when they began to 'test' the integrity of the Pizza Company by placing their orders online and rating the Company's services through the same social media. I think the real success on Domino's side was to the way the Company remained engaged in the online conversations relentlessly and in its willingness to change its behaviour.