Domino's Goes on Taste-Test Attack Against Subway

In New Crispin Ads, Pizza Purveyor Claims Sub Superiority

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CHICAGO ( -- Domino's is running a new campaign designed to hit Subway right in the $5 foot-long.

New comparative taste-test spots from Crispin Porter & Bogusky tout results from the latest in a string of "national taste tests" that claim underdog superiority, in this case for sub sandwiches sold by pizza purveyor Domino's.

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"From the beginning, we were confident that our oven-baked sandwiches would be more appealing to consumers than the subs at Subway," Domino's CEO David Brandon said in a statement. "We knew we would win in any side-by-side comparison, but the margin of victory was overwhelming even to us. Having two-thirds of a national study prefer your product over the leader is virtually unheard of -- until now."

All about taste tests
Attack ads have been on the rise in the rough economy, with everyone from Microsoft to Campbell's Soup leaping into the fray. But taste tests are also becoming increasingly common. Dunkin' Donuts launched the first cannonball with its "Dunkin' beat Starbucks" campaign from agency Hill Holliday in October. Campbell's was close behind with a campaign from agency BBDO, New York, trumpeting Select Harvest's taste-test success against Progresso. But it was another Crispin campaign for Burger King that made the biggest waves -- for better or for worse -- with "Whopper Virgins." In the spots, researchers ask Thai villagers, Transylvanian farmers and Greenland fisherman if they prefer Whoppers or Big Macs.

Crispin VP-Creative Director Evan Fry said he and his team knew they were risking taste-test fatigue. But his client, which began its sub rollout in August, was anxious to develop a taste-superiority claim over its much-larger sandwich rival.

"We knew the environment was teeming with this kind of stuff, but we're partners with our client and they wanted to do it. They spent a lot of effort to get it going and our job was to put a different spin on it and we believe we did," he said.

Spots break this week
The first 30-second spot, which began airing this week, humorously depicts the victory margin. A professorial type with a pipe and a beard says the margin is the same difference as his IQ of 200 compared with that of the average fifth grader he is shown playing checkers with. The child, who's apparently at less than 100, has a temper tantrum. In a second spot, a choir director says "Subway" and a wimpy little choir gives out a pathetic "La." Then the preacher says, "Domino's" and a boisterous gospel choir belts out a lusty "LLLAAAAAA!"

Domino's will run another 30-second spot and two 15-second executions as part of the campaign, which will run through late January.

Subway spokesman Les Winograd said that while he wasn't aware of the specific content of the Domino's campaign, the sandwich giant stands firmly behind its product. He also pointed to some notable differences in the service offerings. "We've been providing great-tasting food since 1965, sandwiches made to each customer's specifications, right before their eyes," he said, adding that Subway sandwiches aren't "cookie cutter," but allow customers to get extra tomatoes, for instance.

Subway is also arguably the industry's leader in health and wellness, thanks in part to pitchman Jared Fogle, Mr. Winograd added. "We're providing information about calories and fat so consumers can make informed choices about what they eat."

Dominos' subs will also compete with Subway's all-important price point, delivering their toasted creations for $4.99. The chain currently offers four sandwiches, Philly cheese steak, chicken parm, Italian and chicken bacon ranch.

High expectations
This is Cripsin's second major campaign for Domino's. The agency's "You've got 30 minutes" campaign generated buzz, but didn't appear to meaningfully drive same-store sales. This one may have greater expectations.

Detroit-based Domino's has had a challenging year. The chain's third-quarter net income fell to $10 million, from $11 million the year before, and U.S. same-store sales dropped 6%. Mr. Brandon also conceded that the credit crisis had forced some Domino's franchisees out of business, and that the company would offer loans to certain distressed operators.

But this kind of campaign is tailor-made for an economy like this, Mr. Fry said. "It's smart to remember that we may all be watching our pennies a lot more, but the thing that no one wants to skimp on is taste."

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