Down on Domino’s

“Tastes less like cardboard.”

“Looks more like dog food.”


“Dog food!”

“Hey, you’re both right!”

That’s not exactly the way Domino’s new 60-second spot, “Anthem: Oh Yes We Did,” goes, but it could be. At bottom, there’s a weird, earnest honesty — almost to the point of self-parody — to the whole coming-clean-about-how-much-our-food-stinks proposition that is the premise of this spot. You have to give the pizza maker, and its agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, credit for taking such a risk. Really, how many brands have used hidden cameras to reveal people talking smack about their own products and then show a test kitchen where chefs — too many of them — as well as management types cop to the fact that the patented foodstuffs they’ve been happily hawking all these years are beyond disgusting? And then offer 100 percent of your money back if you don’t taste an improvement?

I really like the beginning of the spot, as brief as it is, which shows an actual focus group in action and Domino’s honchos listening on the other side of the one-way mirror. The agency is great at staging and cutting these hidden-camera scenes — that’s why “Whopper Freakout” was so successful. That said, the Whopper version was pure advertising gold because Burger King customers seemed defiant and sad, and showed palpable withdrawal pains when told they couldn’t have the product. That’s not to say that a Whopper is healthy or even amazingly delicious, just that it’s hugely satisfying to its target audience.

Here, watching the Domino’s chef say it “hits ya right in the heart” in response to the marketing manager repeating the “totally void of flavor” comment from a focus group member might spur you to make a pity purchase. And when, at the very end of the spot, that same chef guffaws over the fact that consumers will get not half but all of their money back if not impressed with the new food, the prospect of a purchase became, for me, 10 percent pity, 40 percent cruising for a new taste (hey, maybe those herbs are kickin’!) and 50 percent hoping to get a full refund. And I don’t think those numbers add up for the food chain.

The last half of the spot is so cringe inducing it’s hard to say which is worse: showing the new sauce with oregano being thrown in — and looking oddly thick and decidedly brown, like something that should top a Salisbury steak TV dinner — or that moment of corporate team building in the kitchen when the chefs and management give themselves high-fives and loud boo-yahs all around.

Having the strength to change is great, but really, did Domino’s not have chefs for the last 30something years? I understand that in the last 10 years there’s been something of a food revolution in America, what with the Food Network’s array of cooking shows and consumers becoming more locavorish and organic in their food awareness. But would any of those types actually be swayed by the promise of a less cardboardy taste for Domino’s?

I don’t think any actual Domino’s customers swear by the taste; they know it’s cheap, fast and filling. Adding red pepper to the sauce isn’t going to hurt, but  it’s not that convincing, either — going after America’s taste buds is probably  not the way to go for quick-delivery pizza.

I guess what I’m most disappointed about, aside from the Obama-like use of,  “Oh, yes we did!” is that despite its well-known mastery with social media, Crispin agreed to this sort of suck-uppy, client-centric approach to the spot.

The “documentary” on the Web site is actually much cooler than the 60-second commercial, and incorporates some of the more hurtful actual tweets about the taste of the pizza. Also, shorter TV versions are much better as well. This spot just seems phony and outdated.

Or maybe it’s a parody of the whole cooking show/reality TV genre. Either way, you don’t have to be a psychic to foresee that the TV spots will revert to featuring  Domino’s Nascar sponsorship before too long.