Letters: 'Pizza! Pizza!' Couldn't help Little Caesars

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RE: Al Ries' "Marketing Sense Isn't the Same as Common Sense: Whatever Happened to Little Caesars?" (AdAge.com, Nov. 2)

A lot of good points here, especially acknowledgment of Cliff Freeman and his team, who were brilliant in their positioning of Little Caesars.

Little Caesars certainly dropped the ball on a powerful message and positioning. But its biggest mistake was not having a solid vision and plan for operations to take it to its next success.

Marketing is only a portion of what drives the restaurant industry. Operations are in fact the most important element, and in this case, delivery operations are the main revenue engine of the business.

Explaining away that Little Caesars getting into delivery was off its marketing strategy is like saying Blockbuster should not have gotten into the online ordering and downloading business, which it should have done a lot sooner than it did.

For all of the companies in the pizza industry, there are internal battles between franchisees, operations and marketing; each have different agendas and focus on what is the best course for the company.

Papa John's is known for doing the best job of fostering relationships and building a bond with all its key stakeholders -- franchisees, operations and marketing.

Those relationships could be credited with why it has the highest revenue per store. Sure it has a good positioning, but it's not earth shattering and highly differentiated.

Outside of the pizza category, operations can be attributed for the highest sales per store for category leaders like McDonald's and Chick-fil-A. Yes, marketing is important to them, but operations make the greatest contribution.

Pizza Hut had a legacy of sit-down restaurants owned by franchisees slow to move to delivery. Corporate had to take on the burden of delivery in many markets where franchisees refused, some of whom later came on board, but the nature of the situation creates a legacy of friction. Many Pizza Hut franchisees still want to push the dine-in business because they are attached to large physical properties and overhead, which is counter to delivery.

If Pizza Hut had not entered the delivery business, it would more likely be a distant No. 3 rather than No. 1.

Domino's has had its own issues with growth, finance, operations and franchisees that have led to changes in management several times. This past year, it acknowledged its biggest challenge, that being the quality of its food, and worked to fix it.

The communication delivered the biggest spike it's seen in years. While marketing delivered the message, the challenge and resolution was more operationally and franchisee focused.

This only powers home the notion that brands need powerful stories. "Pizza! Pizza!" while catchy, also told a story. Two pizzas! Papa John's slogan is great because it tells you exactly what it's about and why it's better.

That's not to say that a catchy slogan is necessary. I can't recall what Domino's is, but I know all about its new recipe and the campaign to have users take their own pictures of the pizza.

Telling an effective story and sticking to that story is super important. Not that brands don't change and evolve, but don't go changing it for the sake of changing. Change it when there really is a new story to tell.

This is a really great article! It's great to be able to explore the ups and downs of a single brand over this period of time. Al is right that new marketing managers are intensely driven to make their mark when they start, often throwing the baby out with the bathwater in an effort to be seen.

The other thing that's going on here is the gambling mentality. Do you stay in the same path and probably generate X% gain, or try something different and MAYBE generate 2X or 3X or 5X (but risk losing ground from where you started)? Little Caesars' bold prediction of "Italian Kitchens" goes right along with it.

As a culture, we stretch for growth. We reach for the brass ring, the big win. It's the blessing behind innovative successes, and the curse behind every overinflated bubble. It's no big surprise that marketers fall right into it.


In "Coupon Clipping Stages a Comeback," (AA, Nov. 1), Valassis will distribute NewsAmerica's coupon inserts via its mail program starting in January, but it won't reach the 14 million households cited in the story. NewsAmerica said it will only distribute SmartSource inserts to 4 million households through the mail program. In the "market share" chart accompanying the story, the heading "Direct mail" should be "Internet;" the heading "Internet" should be "Handout;" and the heading "Electronic Dispensed" should be "Direct Mail."

RE: "Bottlers, Community Groups Are Pepsi Refresh's Big Winners" (AA, Nov. 1). Earned media impressions attributed to Refresh were as of Oct. 15, 2010, not Oct. 13.

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