Domino’s hires WorkInProgress in a major blow to MDC’s CPB
Domino’s Pizza is breaking up with CPB after 13 years, hiring independent agency WorkInProgress after determining that working with a holding company shop was not letting it move quickly enough during this chaotic year.
WorkinProgress—the Boulder-based small agency founded in 2016 by a group of CPB vets who had steered some of the pizza maker’s groundbreaking work—officially begins its tenure as Domino’s creative agency in January.
Moving the account to WorkInProgress “is not an indictment” on the creative work being put out by MDC Partners’ CPB, says Domino’s Chief Marketing Officer Art D’Elia. “I’m really proud of the work we’ve done with Crispin.”
But the agency, and its position within a holding company, don’t offer the structure Domino’s wants as it prepares for a rapidly changing, quick-thinking future. “I really feel that the independent agency model gives us more flexibility and less distractions,” says D’Elia.
Losing the Domino’s account is a stinging blow to CPB, and comes as it is defending its Infiniti account, which went into global review in June.
It’s also the latest example that holding companies need to prove their value to marketers, even longtime clients.
Brands had to rapidly rethink their marketing plans when the coronavirus pandemic forced them to pull existing campaigns and quickly execute new approaches, abandoning long-held traditions of extended planning meetings and prolonged shoots.
“What this COVID crisis has taught us is that the pace is going to move even faster than we originally thought,” says D’Elia.
While being “nimble, agile and quick” is not a new idea, the pandemic helped solidify it, says D’Elia. “I guess it’s a little bit cliched to say, but the pace of change is increasing,” he says.
Domino’s contract with CPB was set to expire at the end of 2020, and the events of this year put further extension of the deal in doubt. In July, D’Elia began speaking with WorkInProgress. Now, the deal is formalized and set to begin in January.
“Absolutely, COVID played a role in this,” says D’Elia, noting that in the second quarter of 2020, Domino’s “had to move faster than we ever had to move before.” And he believes brands will need to move even more quickly in the post-pandemic era. “I want to be prepared to operate in that new environment,” he says.
A lot of Domino’s ads set to run in the first half of 2021 will be from CPB, with work from WorkInProgress likely to debut in the spring or summer.
“We’re proud to have won some of the creative industry’s highest awards, but most importantly, we’re proud to have helped completely transform their business,” CPB Global CEO Erik Sollenberg said in a statement, noting milestones such as Domino’s stock price soaring 16,000% and attaining the leading position in the pizza category. “We will forever be Domino’s fans and customers, and we will celebrate their continued success long into the future.
CPB’s client list includes American Airlines, Hotels.com, Paypal and Vrbo.
The Domino’s loss comes at a tumultuous time for the agency, which has failed to recapture the magic it had in the early 2000s when it was seen as one of the hottest shops in the industry. It closed its offices in Miami and Los Angeles in 2018. Co-founder Alex Bogusky, who rejoined the agency in 2018, left again in early 2020. MDC pulled the agency into a cluster, dubbed Constellation, with 72andSunny and other agencies. And, like other agencies, it announced furloughs and layoffs this spring. The Domino's loss is a setback for MDC at a tough time. The holding company's revenue declined nearly 16% in the first nine months of 2020, while its net loss narrowed slightly, to $6 million.
Domino’s hired Crispin Porter + Bogusky PB in 2007, after reviewing more than 50 agencies following its split from WPP’s JWT, a partnership that lasted more than five years. CPB’s success stories for the chain included the much celebrated “Pizza Turnaround” campaign that showed Domino’s openly admitting its pizza wasn’t great and updating its recipe. With CPB’s help, Domino’s began to improve its standing in the pizza industry.
In 2017, Domino’s finalized a renewal agreement with CPB keeping the two parties together through the end of 2020. That same year, Domino’s surpassed Pizza Hut to become the biggest global pizza chain by sales. Domino’s has continued to grow. Its U.S. same-store sales jumped 17.5% in the third quarter, aided by more people staying home for meals during the pandemic and marking the chain’s 38th consecutive quarter of U.S. same-store sales growth.
“I certainly don’t think we would have achieved those results if the marketing with Crispin wasn’t effective,” says D’Elia.
Now, WorkInProgress has a three-year contract to handle Domino’s creative strategy, brand execution and digital design.
“Our hope is that we have a long partnership with WorkInProgress just as we did with Crispin,” says D’Elia, who joined Domino’s in 2018 as senior VP, chief brand and innovation officer, and was promoted to executive VP and CMO earlier this year.
“We are grateful and humbled by the opportunity to partner with Domino’s,” Matt Talbot, WorkInProgress’ chief creative officer, said in statement. “WorkInProgress is a small business, like the hundreds of Domino’s franchises across the country. And ultimately, the work we do is in service of them.”
While D’Elia had not worked with the WorkInProgress team, others at Domino’s including Dennis Maloney, chief digital officer, and Kate Trumbull, VP of advertising, know Talbot and the others who handled the Domino’s account before leaving to found their own agency four years ago.
“The work that they produced was fantastic for us,” says D’Elia.
That sentiment was echoed by Domino’s U.S. Chief Operating Officer and President Russell Weiner, who was the chain’s CMO during its first few years with CPB.
“Domino’s would not be the number one pizza company without the big ideas they have brought to us over the years,” Weiner said in a statement. “This move is not about the effectiveness of their work, they have helped our brand to drive strong sales for many years. Some of my favorite spots produced by CPB have been created recently and haven’t even aired yet. This move is mostly about the future, and the value of the independent agency model, which we feel is important for our success moving forward.”
After the WorkInProgress team left the agency, CPB continued to create notable work for the brand, including the “Paving for Pizza” campaign that offered to improve the streets near their avid fans and a spot featuring the character Norm, played by George Wendt, from the classic series “Cheers” to promote the brand’s Pie Pass. This summer, the ties between the client and the agency played out in the creative, as the daughters of CPB copywriter D’Arcy O’Neill appeared in a spot shot at home.
Meanwhile, at WorkinProgress, the standout ideas continued with its new clients. Out-of-the-box moves included outdoors brand 37.5 Technology’s experiential campaign featuring a pop-up shop accessible to only hardcore climbers (it was on the side of a cliff), as well as clever ideas for sandwich chain Jimmy John’s, which included a contest that moved one of the brand’s fans to a new home within the delivery range of the restaurant (Jimmy John’s puts strict limitations on its delivery zones in order to preserve the freshness of its food).
Independent over in-house
Domino’s did not use a traditional pitch process. It considered creating an in-house agency but abandoned that idea, says D’Elia. “We thought of it but at the end of the day we’re a pizza company, we’re not an agency,” he says.
Instead, it turned to WorkInProgress. “I didn’t feel a need to vet their creative abilities,” he says. D’Elia believes the setup of a young, small, independent agency “is really tailored to our needs.”
Domino’s, which gets more than half of its business from digital orders, wants to do more “precision at scale” marketing using its customer data, says D’Elia. Still, it continues to get great returns on investment in broad reach efforts such as TV commercials.
The appointment is the latest example of an independent shop taking an account that had been with a holding company agency. In 2019, Ferrero USA picked Terri & Sandy as its U.S. creative agency of record for hazelnut cocoa spread Nutella, duties that had been held by Omnicom’s Merkley & Partners. Seventh Generation moved its business from MDC’s 72andSunny to independent agency Opinionated. And McDonald’s shocked many in the industry when it hired Wieden+Kennedy, replacing a bespoke Omnicom Group agency, We Are Unlimited, that was created three years earlier for the restaurant chain.
WorkInProgress has had time since July to work on staffing and other details. The agency already has a restaurant client in Jimmy John’s. McDonald’s move to W&K has suggested that adjacent competitors are less of a concern than they used to be in the industry. History suggests Domino’s doesn’t consider such overlap an issue: When Domino’s hired CPB in 2007, the agency was already working with Burger King.
The creative agency switch only affects Domino’s U.S. business. Media buying will continue to be handled by GroupM’s Mindshare, which Domino’s has worked with since 2008. Domino’s international marketing is run by master franchisees who have their own marketing teams and agency relationships, and none were previously working with CPB.
The pandemic also showed D’Elia that Domino’s internal team of about 120 marketers may need to reorganize and put new processes in place, though no changes are being announced. “We will continue to evolve as a marketing team to make sure that we, too, are organized to be really agile and nimble and are able to move quickly in the future,” says D’Elia.
Domino's was the 23rd most advertised brand in the U.S. in 2019, with measured media spending of $467 million, up from $431 million in 2018, according to Kantar data compiled by Ad Age Datacenter. The next-largest pizza advertiser was Little Caesars, which spent $201 million.
Contributing: Ann-Christine Diaz