CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Only 24 hours ago Domino's was looking for a reasoned response to a web video showing two employees apparently defacing its food. The pizza chain had located the employees and was examining its legal options but was trying to stay below the radar.
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What a difference a day makes.
After a blogosphere firestorm, the video went from 20,000 views on YouTube to 760,000 views, the errant employees were fired and warrants were issued for their arrest. Domino's has also posted a statement on its corporate website.
"The opportunities and freedom of the internet is wonderful," the statement reads. "But it also comes with the risk of anyone with a camera and an internet link to cause a lot of damage, as in this case, where a couple of individuals suddenly overshadow the hard work performed by the 125,000 men and women working for Domino's across the nation and in 60 countries around the world." The statement apologizes for the former employees' actions and thanks consumers for their continued support.
'Putting out a candle with a fire hose'
Domino's spokesman Tim McIntyre declined to comment for this story, adding that requesting he do so was like "asking a victim to describe the crime scene." Only yesterday Mr. McIntyre said the chain would not be posting statements on the company website for fear of alerting more consumers to a negative story. He added that millions of people view the chain's website every day, if only to order a pizza. Such an approach "would be like putting out a candle with a fire hose," he said.
But a number of crisis experts are concerned that the company is doing just that.
"I do think that decisive action needed to be taken, and termination is the first step," said Gene Grabowski, senior VP, Levick Strategic Communications, adding that arresting the youths might not be the right next step. "The next thing they have to do is look forward and show customers and prospective customers what they're doing to make sure this will never happen again."
Possible positive steps
First and foremost is to institute a more stringent employee-training regime and issue a press release about it. He added that Domino's might consider tapping a former Food and Drug Administration official as a "food safety czar." The chain might also consider creating its own YouTube video, beginning with an apology and then describing the quality standards at Domino's. The chain could drive awareness of the video through paid search engine optimization, its website and Twitter. He said Mattel used the strategy successfully in the wake of the Chinese toy scandal of 2007.
Unfortunately for Domino's, the video has already taken at least a temporary toll on quality and buzz ratings, as measured by BrandIndex. So far the changes are driven by negative perceptions among women. Buzz fell from 22.5 points last Friday to 13.6 yesterday. More significantly, Domino's quality rating fell from 5 on Monday to minus 2.8 yesterday. Quality ratings are generally more stable, less susceptible to the news cycle and unlikely to move quickly in one direction or the other.
Zeta Interactive's measurements show a similar decline. In the past month, Domino's buzz ratings have been overwhelmingly positive, at about 81%. As a result of Monday night's video release, however, perception is now 64% negative. The number of blog postings mentioning Domino's has increased nearly tenfold this week, to 227.5 per day, from an average of 27.4 during the past month.
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UPDATE: Dominos has also taken its crisis management to Twitter today, with the handle "dpzinfo" and 196 followers by midday. The brand is using the opportunity to promote positive coverage, thank consumers for kind words and "retweet," or resend, tweets from other users supporting the brand during the crisis.