Domino's Does Itself a Disservice by Coming Clean About Its Pizza

We Like Apologies and Honesty, but There Are Limits. Just Ask Ford

By Published on .

What a weird nine months this has been for Domino's.

First, two knuckleheads working in a North Carolina store figured it would be just hilarious to post a video of themselves defiling sandwich ingredients. (Because, really, what's funnier than a mozzarella curl in the nostril, or passing gas on a salami slice?)

The repulsive episode led the company president, Patrick Doyle, to place ads apologizing for strictly unauthorized condimentation and promising to spare no effort in maintaining a snot-free environment.

Marketer: Domino's
Agency: Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Boulder, Colo.
Domino's Pizza ad
Man, what is it with this guy? Does he just really like apologizing?
That very same month, to promote its line of pasta dishes, the chain ran a commercial of a hip-hop penne noodle called Pasta Dude. Curiously, it looked less like a penne than a penis -- a penis rapper, to be specific, thrusting himself at a Domino's entree in a way that reminded many people of a major act of sodomy. The campaign was very short-lived.

Then, to begin the new year, the chain bought millions of dollars of advertising to announce to the world -- are you ready for this? -- how horrible its product has been for the past 40 years. Yep, there's Patrick Doyle again, coming clean about Domino's Pizza recipe deficiencies and once again promising to make things right:

"There comes a time," he says, "when you have to make a change."

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been nine months since my last confession. I twice took the Lord's name in vain, I put a rapping schlong on TV and my pizza is inedible.

Man, what is it with this guy? Does he just really like apologizing? Sure seems like it, because next we see focus group members dissing the brand ("Domino's pizza crust to me is like cardboard.") and Domino's employees, ahem, regurgitating the comments of consumers dissing the brand ("The sauce tastes like ketchup." "The worst excuse for pizza I've ever had. Totally void of flavor.")

Now AdReview has always admired candor in advertising. Not only is it disarming every now and then to put your second-best foot forward, it is potentially quite refreshing and a good way to establish trust. Within limits, that is. First of all, you can only generate trust so often before you just start eyes to roll. General Motors has been apologizing for four decades, but never quite making good on its promises to put the bad old days in the rear view mirror.

More importantly, it is one thing to eat a little crow and another to overdose on sodium pentathol. Please note the slogan was "Have You Driven a Ford Lately?" -- not "Did You Really Drive Those Crapmobiles Till Now?" We have never advised shading the truth, but even felons have the right to clam up to avoid self-incrimination. For Domino's, something banal along the lines of "tangy new crust, bold new flavor" might have done the trick just fine. Merely juxtaposing the word "Domino's" and "flavor" is enough to get anybody's attention. OK, not as much attention as this campaign is generating, but consider the risks:

  • Many customers will resent the company for knowingly serving cardboard and ketchup for four decades.
  • The new recipe, by virtue of its very tang (tangitude? tangosity?) will turn off many other Domino's customers who favored the brand because of its blandness.
  • Everyone fancies himself a pizza expert. Many of those previously contented customers -- who by the way are by definition the majority of the customer base -- will be steamed to be told they have bad taste in pizza. They won't think they've been leveled with.
  • They will think they've been Pasta Duded.