Pizza Hut vs. Domino's: Who Delivered the Best Media Strategy?

Optimedia's Antony Young Compares the Pizza Rivals

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The start of the football season kicks off the most important sales period in the pizza-delivery game. A rivalry to match a Cowboys-Redskins playoff would have to be the head-to-head shootout between pizza franchises Pizza Hut and Domino's. In media terms, there's a high level of blocking and tackling, and strategy that is played out in their advertising programs.

Logo-washed sidewalk
Logo-washed sidewalk
Pizza Hut leads the $29 billion category with some 18% of pizza sales, and Domino's takes about 10% of the market. Frozen-pizza sales have jumped, as have private label with consumers trading down. As an act of defiance to the recession, both marketers have held and even increased their advertising media budgets in 2009.

We decided to evaluate their 2009 media playbook.


5 stars Outstanding/innovative
4 stars Highly effective
3 stars Good
2 stars Disappointing
1 star A disaster

Advertising strategies

To stay competitive, Pizza Hut looked to appeal to a wider base, launching new marketing vehicles and products that adhere to the sensibilities of both younger and older consumers. This past year Pizza Hut has experimented with its brand by replacing "Pizza Hut" on take-out boxes with "The Hut," and by pushing the quality of its product and natural ingredients and adding more pasta options to the menu as meal-replacement solutions at home. The marketer has also introduced an extensive series of social media and nontraditional media programs.

Domino's caused a stir late last year by taking jabs at Subway with TV spots touting national taste tests proving Domino's sandwiches were preferred 2 to 1 over Subway's. The ads resulted in a cease-and-desist letter from Subway. Domino's eventually removed the comparison ads but continued to take shots at Subway, featuring Domino's CEO Dave Brandon "oven baking" the cease and desist in a follow-up spot. Domino's also produced ads directly addressing the recession through "The Big Taste Bailout" and "Taste Stimulus Package" promotions. In August, Domino's began a spot called "Chefs vs. Accountants" starring six team members from the corporation's research and development departments.


Pizza Hut 3 and ahalf stars
Domino's 3 stars

TV remains a firm battleground, accounting for about 92% and 94% of Pizza Hut's and Domino's paid media, respectively, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Domino's TV spots appeared to be more tactical and responsive in the market place, with ads discussing the recession and the value it delivers. Pizza Hut, by comparison, promoted more of its quality and menu range.

Their TV strategies differed significantly. Pizza Hut bought a broader and slightly older demographic. For example, 38% of its network buy was on the 25- to 54-year-old skewed CBS, with 19% spent on the younger-leaning Fox. That contrasted with Domino's, which bought only 11% of its airtime on CBS, but 49% on Fox. In order to drive efficiencies, Domino's shifted dollars out of network into cable with 37% of its TV budget, up from 30% the year prior.

In terms of programming, both had heavy buys in reality shows, with Pizza Hut placing slightly more of its schedule in football programming than Domino's did.

Domino's targeted Hispanic media with specific creative and spent 13% of its TV dollars on Univision and Telemundo. This was much higher than Pizza Hut, which placed just 5% of its TV plan on Spanish-language networks. Pizza Hut was a large spender in local, placing nearly three times more than Domino's in local spot TV.

Social media

Pizza Hut 4 and a half stars
Domino's 3 and ahalf stars

For its social-media strategy, Pizza Hut implemented a broad-ranging program across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

First, it established a Facebook fan page that included an application to order pizzas without having to leave the site. It actively recruited membership to that page, with efforts including $50 Pizza Hut gift cards and the "Passport to Italy Sweepstakes" to help launch its new Tuscani Lasagna. To date, Pizza Hut's Facebook page has accumulated more than 1 million fans. It's used the database of friends to send out promotional announcements and product news.

Domino's Pizza Tracker
Domino's Pizza Tracker
This summer, Pizza Hut promoted the recruitment of a Twitter internship to manage the company's voice on the micro-blogging site. The winning Twintern's job description encompassed sharing insights and experiences on marketing meetings, special events, ad shoots, promotions and product news through the social-media channel. This was a clever initiative, and while it was a little gimmicky, it did generate a lot of interest among Twitter users in the marketing community, as well as capture the attention of the student market it no doubt was primarily intended to target. It allowed the marketer to be seen as more relevant, interesting and in touch.

One good example of a viral online video Pizza Hut created was a posting of outtakes in which comedian Jim Breuer flips out while filming a TV commercial. According to Visible Measures, nearly 400,000 people viewed the video last week.

While numerous bloggers have passed off these programs as somewhat staged, I say hats off to the Pizza Hut team for pushing this medium and beating most others to the ball.

Domino's Facebook page, while not enjoying as many fans (370,610 at last count), appeared to have more interaction from the fans itself. It also built an excellent feature -- the "Domino's Pizza Tracker" -- an application that can be added to your newsfeed and essentially informs your friends on exactly what type of pizza you ordered and what stage that the pizza is in the delivery process. It really integrates the brand masterfully into Facebook's functionality.

In case you didn't pick it up, last April Domino's was the victim of two renegade employees who uploaded a prank video allegedly showing them doing all sorts of nasty and gross things in the kitchen of a store. Within just a few days, the video went viral and was viewed over a million times -- a nightmare scenario for any marketer.

Many other companies would have been paralyzed or would have tried to fight through the traditional media route. Kudos to Domino's, who responded quickly to the incident by posting its own video on YouTube. President-U.S. Operations Patrick Doyle gave a very sincere and apologetic message that went a long way to limiting the damage and trying to undo the issue through social media. The company also set up a Twitter account, "@dpzinfo," to refute the prank video and posting.

Online advertising

Pizza Hut 3 stars
Domino's 3 stars

Both Domino's and Pizza Hut just about tripled their investment in online advertising in 2009 vs. the previous year. Domino's primarily promoted its delivery service with immediate call to action. It also promoted its American Legends Challenge, encouraging users to vote for their favorite regional-styled pizza with an opportunity to win free Domino's pizza for a year. The company promoted across a broad range of sites including Amazon, Ask, Yahoo!, MySpace, Facebook, College Humor, Yellow Pages and local newspaper sites.

Pizza Hut tied back into its key product calendar pushes online, sending users to its website to order. It appeared to target a younger and more female-skewed audience on sites including ETonline, Cosmo Girl, Elle, Fandago and FoxNews.

One clever e-mail marketing execution that grabbed my attention was a coupon e-mail from Pizza Hut that incorporated a 20% off offer which was only available for ten days. The e-mail included a clock counting down in real time to create a level of urgency.

Domino's closed the gap on Pizza Hut in search marketing across 2009, particularly coming out strong on natural search -- a reflection that its general advertising resonated as well as a strong website experience. Pizza Hut had a bigger commitment in paid-search clicks against both branded and unbranded words.


Pizza Hut 4 stars
Domino's 3 stars

The irony of being able to order a pizza using your iPhone is, I'm sure, not lost on readers. Both Pizza Hut and Domino's claimed breakthroughs with the launch of their iPhone applications.

Pizza Hut on Facebook
Pizza Hut on Facebook
Pizza Hut launched its app in early August. Within just two weeks, it recorded 100,000 downloads at the App Store. The new app allows customers to order Pizza Hut menu items directly from their mobile devices by using an intuitive touch-screen interface. A feature I thought was fun was one in which a pizza explodes and toppings go flying across the screen with an alert if an overeager customer adds too many toppings. Pizza Hut also gives consumers a way to pass the time as they wait for their order with a game called Pizza Hut Racer.

The Domino's mobile-ordering application is an iPhone optimized web app, which means there's no need to install it. By visiting on the Safari browser, users are served an ordering system designed specifically for iPhones or an iPod Touch. They can then create an order by tapping "Express Ordering" or "Create Your Own Pizza." Other notable features of this web app include its pizza tracker.


Pizza Hut  N/A
Domino's 4 stars

In July 2009, Domino garnered industry attention with a unique outdoor promotion of its "American Legends" pizza. In the execution, 200 Domino's logos of "GreenGraffiti" were "cleaned" into dirty sidewalks throughout Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York, using a high-pressure water hose to spray the eco-friendly images, which appeared in clean relief against the grime on a street.


Pizza Hut 2 stars
Domino's 4 stars

Pizza Hut, as part of its cross promotion with the movie "Terminator Salvation," made exclusive film content available on its website, including behind-the-scenes footage of how its special effects were created. It also gave away free pizza to anyone whose name was John or Sarah Connor.

Domino's developed a word-of-mouth marketing program enlisting House Party, a consumer activation and experiential marketing company, to promote the Domino's American Legends Pizzas by sharing them at 2,000 in-home parties across the country. An estimated 30,000 qualified consumer advocates trialed regional-designed pizzas such as a Cali Chicken Bacon Ranch or a Philly Cheese Steak.


Pizza Hut 3 stars
Domino's 4 stars

Domino's did several things right. First, its recession-related tactical promotions in its TV activity and its value-based offers showed good focus and resulted in a positive impact on traffic and sales. Second, its online and search activity supporting those promotions led to increased uptake with online delivery. A recent MPV Crest market share report ranked it No. 1 in online sales with a 28% share of that market, up from an 11% share just 24 months ago. Removing the impact of the YouTube incident, Domino's management said it would have seen an increase in year-on-year sales.

While Pizza Hut scored a touchdown with its smart media programs, particularly in the social media space, this is a category whose sales remain largely driven by the core TV and promotional activity. Pizza Hut receipts in the second quarter were down about 8%.

The final verdict? Domino's delivered.

Antony Young is CEO of Optimedia US, a full-service media planning and buying agency headquartered in New York. He is author of "Strategies in a Downturn."
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