Pizza predicament: With rivals in turmoil, Domino's changes course

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The pizza wars, already steaming, stand to sizzle next year as Domino's Pizza readies a new advertising campaign designed to position it as a hipper, more contemporary brand.

The work, slated to break in the spring, will come from Deutsch, New York. The agency was tapped last week to handle the national creative portion of the chain's estimated $120 million account following a two-month review.

"The nature of their work has wit, sharpness, humor and contemporariness, which we believe our brand is ready to go forward with," said Cheryl Bachelder, exec VP-marketing for the chain. "Their work is renowned for creating market dominance for their brands. That's dead on the brand opportunity for Domino's."


Out will be the current themeline, "Delivering a million smiles a day." In will be humor, and an effort to target young people without alienating families, said an executive familiar with the plans. College kids will be a specific target for the chain, which found early success in the 1960s by serving college dorms. Taste will get big play in the new work, though company officials and agency executives declined to discuss specifics about the campaign.

This comes at a particularly heated time in the $22 billion U.S. pizza business. Two major chains, industry leader Pizza Hut and No. 4 Papa John's International, are battling in federal court in Dallas over advertising claims. The court decision could result in fresh ads for Papa John's next year, a campaign that is already in development, according to a company spokeswoman.


At the same time, once-vibrant Little Caesar Enterprises, the No. 3 player in the segment, has been shuttering units. Little Caesars may also lose one of the top agency executives on its account, pizza industry veteran Rob Elliott. Mr. Elliott, a former marketing VP for Little Caesars, and most recently managing partner-client services and creative, at FCB Worldwide, Southfield, Mich., is in discussions to take a new post at Sunbeam Corp.

For all the chains, industry observers said, advertising is key.

"Pizza is a commodity, Customers aren't loyal. It's got to be a call to action," said one Domino's franchisee based in the East.

Deutsch is the third national agency for Domino's in the past three years. Grey Advertising, New York, parted ways in early 1997 on the account, which was awarded after a review to Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis. This fall, a month into the new agency review, CME withdrew from consideration. To win the plum Domino's account, Deutsch presented numerous creative executions stemming from months of research that even put agency employees to work in Domino's stores.

The agency also enlisted psychologists to gain insight into consumers' love affair with pizza. It apparently didn't hurt that one agency executive, Bobbi Casey-Howell, dines regularly on Domino's pies. She spent $1,415 on home delivery orders this year.


The chain's field marketing and media buying remains at J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit. That agency, with its Detroit and Chicago offices pitching together, was the other finalist in the review. The review did not affect African-American agency Don Coleman Advertising, Southfield, Mich., or Marti Flores Priesto & Wachtel, San Juan, Puerto Rico, the chain's Hispanic agency.

The pizza win is the latest in a string of new business successes for Deutsch, and puts it above the $1 billion industry benchmark. This year, the independently owned agency has nabbed accounts including Citizen Watch Co. of America, Pfizer's Zyrtec, Tommy Hilfiger USA,, Microsoft Corp.'s and Procter & Gamble Co.'s

A long-time Domino's franchisee in the West said he's hoping Deutsch will get it right. Despite the fact that Domino's has been enjoying strong sales this year, he said, there's room for growth that he believes new advertising should fuel.

"I've found with Grey and CME, they had all the best intentions. When it comes to that final 30-second clip, it's very hard to get that message properly portrayed," he said. "The creative just doesn't meet expectations. Maybe for once we'll be surprised by what this Deutsch agency does."

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