NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "I seriously hated Domino's in the past," wrote Kris Johnson on the pizza chain's Facebook page. "Only had it a couple times and it made my stomach upset and it was average at best. I recently moved and tried Domino's again since there's not much for delivery where I moved to. We are totally turned around by the taste! We have ordered again since 2 more times and plan to order a lot more in the future. ... Way to turn things around Domino's, keep up the fantastic work!!!"
The ability to persuade folks like the Facebook commenter to make the leap from non-fan to repeat customer is precisely what Domino's was banking on in December 2009 when it launched one of the boldest ad campaigns the restaurant industry has seen in years.
Domino's stopped centering its ads solely on recessionary messaging, such as two-for-one pizza deals, and passed the mic to its harshest critics -- and permitted them to publicly condemn the taste of its core product. Then the chain took it one step further and sided with the haters. Domino's admitted in its ads that its pizza was gross. And it threw out its 49-year-old recipe, which had been compared to cardboard and ketchup, and replaced it with a reformulated sauce, new blend of cheese and a garlic-seasoned crust.
Many observers balked at the approach -- with some even predicting the campaign would be brand suicide. But historic double-digit lifts in same-store sales later, the lesson for all marketers is that it's OK to acknowledge when something's broke so that you can assure consumers you'll fix it.
Two months into the turnaround campaign, validation came in the form of a taste test that saw Domino's edge out the competition. Nearly 1,800 random pizza consumers from eight U.S. markets did a blind test, and in head-to-head comparisons participants selected Domino's pizzas as tasting better than both Papa John's and Pizza Hut by a wide margin.
It didn't stop there. Rather than serve up the recipe change as a one-time stunt, the effort spearheaded a new platform of transparency for the brand. Under Chief Marketing Officer Russell Weiner and lead creative agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Domino's has rolled out a host of efforts under the transparency banner. Domino's promised that all national advertising would feature pizzas actually made by its employees and vowed to never artificially manipulate pizzas when photographing them.
In the wake of the makeover campaign, Domino's posted a 14.3% same-store-sales gain -- a record for the fast-food industry, beating the highest-ever gain by McDonald's of 14.2%. And in the most-recent quarter, the chain, which opened its 9,000th store worldwide in March, saw revenue increase 14.5%, and quarterly profit was up a whopping 55.7% to $22.6 million.
The majority of Domino's marketing efforts this year hasn't spoken at consumers, it has involved them. With "Taste Bud Bounty Hunter," consumers nominated people they know who haven't tried Domino's new pizza, and those who converted the most taste buds won a year of free pizza. In the "Show Us Your Pizza" effort, consumers could send in photos of real Domino's pies they ordered for possible use in a national ad campaign. Winners received $500.
That every major media outlet, blogs and TV personalities have paid attention to Domino's tactics hasn't hurt either. After all, who wouldn't want to have Stephen Colbert taste-test their product on his show, only to say: "Is that pizza, or did an angel just give birth in my mouth?"