Domino's Disses Pizza Hut Dough in Latest Spots

Without Naming Names, Chain Takes Dig at Competitor for Using Frozen Ingredients

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Domino's has declared war on Pizza Hut, and it's taking the battle to TV.

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For its latest campaign [see above] touting its new pan pizza, Domino's is calling out Pizza Hut -- in all but name -- for using frozen dough for its pan pizza. In the TV spot, CEO Patrick Doyle said: "Want to know a dirty little secret about the pizza business? A lot of pan pizza starts out as frozen dough."

The major selling point for Domino's is that it uses "fresh" dough for its pizzas, including the new pan pizza. And though Mr. Doyle never directly says Pizza Hut's name in the ad, it's clear Domino's is going after the No. 1 pizza chain in the U.S., as other competitors such as Papa John's don't have pan pizzas.

"We're not mentioning any brand by name, but what we're saying is it would have been easier to do this with frozen dough," said Domino's chief marketing officer, Russell Weiner. "If you freeze something, it's that much easier to make the product taste good, but we took the time to make it right. Faster isn't always better." He added that another benefit to not calling any one competitor out by name is that Domino's can also go against frozen pizza found at the grocery store.

Mr. Weiner said the campaign will run "as long as it works." Marketing will include TV, digital, radio, print and social media. The push was created by Domino's lead agency, MDC Partners' CP&B. Domino's spent about $185.5 million on U.S. measured media in 2011, according to Ad Age 's DataCenter.

As for Pizza Hut, it doesn't seem very bothered. "We are used to our competition following our lead, but consumers have proven time and time again that they will not settle for second best," said CMO Kurt Kane. "In this case, it appears our competition is just trying to divert consumers' attention from a massive increase in their advertised prices. Our experience is that consumers are too smart to fall for that ."

This isn't the first time Domino's has dabbled in pan pizzas. Previous attempts were unsuccessful. The first time it launched pan pizza was in 1986, back when the chain had its 30-minutes-or-less guarantee. Mr. Weiner said that pan pizza usually takes longer to make than the standard, so did not fit in well with the chain's time frame. In 1997 it tried a more deep-dish pizza that arrived at the stores partially baked; that effort failed as well.

It's also not the first time Domino's has declared war on a competitor, but it's doing so less overtly than in the past.

The chain went up against Subway in 2009 when it unveiled its oven-baked sandwiches. In 2010, after it rolled out its new pizza recipe, the chain touted that in product taste tests, the new Domino's pizza beat out Pizza Hut and Papa John's. "Before our new pizza, in both the actual taste and perception, we were No. 3 out of the 3. Now we're number 1. Now we know our product tastes better," the ads claimed.

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