Seeing the CEO of a pizza chain in a restaurant is pretty standard fare for a commercial -- except Ritch Allison shot his first Domino's ad in a competitor's pizza joint. And in the spot he says it's OK to eat competitors' pizza.
Domino's is promoting a limited-time addition to its rewards program that kicks off the day before Super Bowl Sunday, one of the top five days of the year in the ever-competitive pizza industry. The leading pizza chain is giving points for any brand of pizza. Someone could even heat up frozen pizza and earn points.
"We know consumers are incredibly promiscuous," says Kate Trumbull, Domino's VP of advertising. "They shop around, they eat all kinds of different pizza and that's OK, right? They love pizza, we love pizza, we love all different kinds of pizza."
The offer gives anyone who signs up the chance to get free pizza without having to buy from Domino's.
"It gives people an opportunity to engage with our brand with no risk and our goal is to keep them and earn their loyalty," says Trumbull, who worked on designing and launching the chain's loyalty program, which debuted in 2015.
After Domino's cooked up the idea, its internal analytics and digital team worked on an artificial intelligence system that recognizes photos of pizza. "We kept the definition broad, and we landed on an open-faced expression of sauce, cheese and crust," says Trumbull.
Thousands of photos were tested. Some trickery is actually allowed. If a dog has a pizza-shaped toy, a photo would get points for the owner, as the ad explains.
To sell the new approach Domino's had Allison, its CEO since July, shoot his first Domino's commercial at Atlanta's family-owned Antico Pizza. "It brought a lot of credibility that he was telling the story," says Trumbull.
Domino's creative agency CP&B is behind the campaign, which also includes the pizza chain's first Tinder ads.
While the 12-week offer may sound like a gimmick or act of desperation, it comes as Domino's is playing from a position of strength and could extend its dominance over competitors including Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, Papa John's and numerous smaller chains.
Domino's has posted 30 consecutive quarters of U.S. same-store sales growth and secured the top spot in the pizza business based on 2017 sales. Meanwhile, Pizza Hut is busy in its first season as the NFL sponsor, a spot it took over from Papa John's, which updated its rewards program, offering more points, as it tries to move past last year's negative headlines tied to founder John Schnatter.
Domino's just announced it has more than 20 million active users in its Piece of the Pie rewards program. Pizza Hut, the No. 2 player, had about 12 million Hut Rewards members as of late 2018. (Starbucks and Panera, which have two of the most well-regarded rewards programs in the industry, have 16.3 million active users and more than 30 million active members in their programs, respectively.)
The program's limited run can draw attention without costing Domino's or its franchisees too much.
"Giving away points is essentially giving away pizza," says Trumbull. "It's not something that we necessarily can do forever."
A franchise marketing board approved the plan. Franchisees see it as a way to get to people who haven't Domino's or aren't frequent patrons, says Trumbull.
Domino's traditionally doesn't advertise in the Super Bowl and this year is no exception. The main push will be TV ads, with a heavy rotation on Saturday and on Sunday in the hours before kickoff. Domino's began teasing the idea this week with social media posts showing non-Domino's pizza.
Its first Tinder ads let Domino's target people it might not reach through its traditional media buys. On Tinder it will show "hot slices" served up like potential love matches. Someone seeking a deep connection will be served up photos of deep dish, for example, while Hawaiian pizza is for someone who is polarizing but sweet.
To get the rewards, people need to sign up for Domino's loyalty program and share a photo of pizza, up to once a week. Each photo counts as 10 points. After six photos are approved by the company's "Piedentifier" artificial intelligence system, the person has 60 points that can be redeemed for a free pizza.
A 15-second version of the spot will also run on TV.