How Tenacity and Faith in Its Agency Made Domino’s a Patron Saint of Pothole Repair

Advertising vp Kate Trumbull shares the backstory and results of 'Paving for Pizza'

Kate Trumbull, vice president of advertising and Hispanic marketing at Domino's, speaks at Adweek's Elevate: Creativity event. Adweek
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Imagine you work for a city or town and, out of the blue, an ad agency in Colorado calls you to say that a pizza chain would like to give you money to help pave potholes. Of course, it’s likely there would be an awkward pause, then maybe bemusement and, in the case of Crispin Porter Bogusky (CPB), more than a few “no’s” as Domino’s “Paving for Pizza” was pitched.

“Crispin had to do over 1,300 cold calls to local governments to try and convince people that this was a good idea,” Kate Trumbull, vp of advertising and Hispanic marketing at Domino’s told the crowd at Adweek’s Elevate: Creativity. “The big learning was that it turns out we don’t have much credibility in this space. Why would a pizza company be filling potholes?”

On the surface, there is no easy answer to the question. But, in hearing about the strategy, it makes more sense than one would realize. The program that launched last June is an extension of the brand’s carryout focus that began with  Domino’s 2017 carryout insurance program where, if a carryout pizza was damaged after leaving the store, it would be replaced at no charge.

Here’s a look at Trumbull’s full talk at Adweek’s Elevate: Creativity event in New York City:

Where potholes fit into the mix for Domino’s is surprisingly intuitive. If one drives home and hits a crater in the road, a pizza could end up on the floor of a car … and the brand wanted to ensure that their most precious cargo made it home unscathed. It also touched a crucial cultural nerve for the public.

“No matter where you go in this country, people hate potholes … and people will talk to you about their hatred for potholes and the fact that no one is doing anything about it,” noted Trumbull.

Despite the seeming benevolence of helping a community, the core of the program was designed to help drive carryout awareness and sales. But to get it rolling, at least one town would need to say “yes” to a $5,000 grant for pothole repairs. That town was Bentonville, Texas, a city 40 minutes west of Corpus Christi. Then the endeavor really went into overdrive.

Media coverage of the program took off immediately, and other towns and cities signed on shortly after that.

“We wanted to show that this was real,” said Trumbull. “And before we could create a campaign about it, we needed to show that we did something.”

After that initial rush, nominations for towns flooded in, and the program was eventually expanded from a handful of markets to all 50 states. Additionally, with the help of Bentonville, the brand was able to avoid some government potholes, making the grant process much easier and more turnkey.

“When other towns could see that they weren’t the first, it became an easier battle to fight,” said Trumbull.

While pundits and others made the program an indictment of government and infrastructure struggles—why a corporation is doing something that should be a municipality’s job—Domino’s was intentional about this being all about the product.

“We’re not interested in getting political. We care about pizza. We love pizza,” noted Trumbull. “Everything we did within this campaign, and every message was about our commitment and love in the service of pizza.”

When the idea was pitched by the agency, there was a degree of nervousness around the idea, but also something that is par for the course in the relationship between the brand and CP+B that has endured for over a decade. And while “Paving for Pizza” had ambition, Trumbull was quick to point out that the program was not intended to be a gimmick or a perishable stunt.

“We pride ourselves on doing meaningful innovation,” she said, noting some of the brand’s other programs like “Points for Pizza” and their other efforts in the digital space like a pizza delivery tracker. “We’re always looking for ways that make the experience better (for consumers) from start to finish, and that are enduring.”

Key to that innovation is the tenure the brand and agency have had together, in addition to long-standing trust and continual generation of ideas to drive the Dominos’ business forward.

“We have the same values and standards … and we’re willing to challenge things together,” said Trumbull. “Plus, I’m always struck by how much they love our brand, and we love Crispin, too. A good partner leads your thinking and takes you places you didn’t even see. But that level of ownership and true love that partner has for your business leads to incredible results.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.