Sales Improve as Domino’s ‘Gets Real’

Domino’s last week introduced an industry first: A transparent pizza.
The chain, working with Crispin Porter + Bogusky, attempted to one-up competitors on the authenticity front by announcing that all the photographs of its pizza that will appear in ads will from now on be devoid of “fancy food artistry” or “fancy touch-ups.”
To some, the idea brought to mind Dove’s “Real beauty” campaign of a few years ago, which featured full-figured women of a certain age in ads designed to challenge the prevalent standards of heroin-thin beauty.
For the record, Domino’s CMO Russell Weiner said that “Real beauty” wasn’t an influence, but customer mistrust of marketing imagery was. Weiner listened to frequent complaints that the food customers bought looked strikingly different from the images they saw advertised. “You get these products and they’re nothing like what they are in the ads,” he said. Weiner added that such discrepancies are hardly unique to the food segment and that, in one instance, one consumer told him that just seeing a model without all the usual makeup made it clear how artificial and manipulative advertising can be.
Domino’s stand on food photography — an effort backed by a TV campaign and a social-media push asking consumers to send in their own pictures of Domino’s pizza — is the chain’s latest gambit in a larger marketing push that aims to redefine the brand itself.
Last December, the chain rolled out its Pizza “Turnaround” campaign. The effort featured company CEO Patrick Doyle reacting to complaints about the pizza’s taste by focus-group members who likened the pie to a piece of cardboard with ketchup for sauce. Weiner, who joined Domino’s in September 2008, said that campaign was part of a two-year push by the chain to improve its recipes. As thing turned out, Doyle would get even more on this plate. In the wake of a YouTube video showing nefarious employees enacting nauseating misdeeds on a pizza, it was Doyle who stood before the camera and apologized.
Though that April 2009 episode is often cited as the moment marketers woke up to the power of social media, Weiner said Domino’s was already well aware of it by that time. “Probably a couple of years ago, most brands realized that they weren’t in control of their message anymore,” Weiner said, calling up a basketball metaphor. “When you’re taking a shot, your right hand pushes it and your left hand guides it. Right now, we’re kind of the left hand…You guide it by talking about what consumers want you to talk about.”
The approach seems to be working: Q1 same-store sales rose 14 percent and Weiner said that when second-quarter results are announced they would prove that “we’re not a one-trick pony.”
That said, social media is just the latest wrinkle on what some experts say is hardly a new idea: The authentic brand among phonies. Laura Ries, president of consultatcy Ries & Ries, cited Coca-Cola’s 1969 claim  that it was “the Real Thing.” “There’s always great appeal for any brand that’s authentic,” Ries said, but added that Domino’s claim is undercut by the “Turnaround” effort of last year: “What’s more inauthentic than admitting you had a crappy recipe?”
Perhaps the positioning is beside the point. Darren Tristano, evp of fast-food industry consultant Technomic, said the sales jump can be attributed to offering a better product. “They’ve created a better quality pizza,” he said. “The old one wasn’t adequate.”