Marketing Domino’s: Should an Ad Campaign Tell Customers NO?

April 23, 2012

The last time I wrote about Domino’s was for a piece over at Spin Sucks entitled, 11 Reasons Domino’s Turnaround Campaign Worked. At that time, I lauded the brilliance of the Domino’s team’s self-critical, mea culpa approach to reinventing their product, remaking their company, and rebranding their name. It was a remarkable business and marketing turnaround, and it deserved the near-universal praise it received.

Fast forward almost a year, and Domino’s has embarked on another bold and risky marketing push — this time emphasizing that customers cannot change the toppings on their Artisan pizzas.

If you have not seen the commercial, it shows a customer trying to add toppings to an Artisan pizza and a very amiable store employee telling him NO. The voice over supports the messaging of a pizza that is so good that it should not be tampered with. (For the record, I could not find a video of this ad anywhere.)

Yes, if you want to change a topping on one of Domino’s Artisan pizzas, the answer is NO — and they are proud to tell you that.

It’s not the first part of that sentence that I wonder about, but the second.

All Businesses Have Limits

Every business has limits on what it is willing to provide a customer. Real world customer service experts understand that these limitations are often a function of the business model. If you ask the cashier at McDonald’s for a linen tablecloth and fine china, they will not be able to accommodate you — and reasonably so.

So, for purposes of this discussion, I am not going to question whether Domino’s should make changes to their Artisan pizzas. Whether it be low margins, pre-packaging, cooking method or some other operational or fiscal constraint, let’s assume Domino’s has very sound reasons for not wanting to make changes. Instead, let’s ask another question more centered on customer service:

Is this the way to go about saying NO?

Marketing 101, Customer Service 201, and Business 301

I have a lot of respect for Domino’s as an organization; however, I’m not sure how this campaign was conceived. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where franchisees were complaining to Domino’s corporate that they were taking flack in the field for not customizing the Artisan pizzas, and it’s also not hard to imagine someone at the Domino’s advertising agency saying, “ Let’s kill two birds with one stone. We can emphasize our new quality and preempt customer complaints about the Artisan’s fixed ingredients in one ad.” This is supposition, of course, but I’m hard pressed to think of another reason for this messaging strategy.

Regardless of how the campaign was conceived, Marketing 101 says advertise your strengths, not your weaknesses. For example: You just budgeted a huge amount for a major marketing push. Let me ask you: should your ad be focused on what you can provide customers or what you can’t?

And Customer Service 201… If at all possible, do not say “No” to a customer. There are better ways to let a customer know that you cannot fulfill their request.

And finally, Business 301… If you have to “say no” to Jim, don’t go market that to all of your other customers. It was bad enough that you had to “say no” to Jim; why make your other customers share in the problem when it doesn’t affect them?

Preempting Common Complaints Is A Good Idea

Every business has common complaints. When these are a function of operational problems, the answer is fairly simple: fix the problems as soon as possible.

However, when these common complaints are due to the limitations of the business model, preemption can be very helpful in setting expectations early in the customer experience and minimizing the number of upset customers. The question becomes at what point in the customer experience should this preemption occur?

While there might be exceptions when dealing with crisis communications, let’s begin by agreeing on this: preemption should probably not be the core message in a national ad campaign. When preemption should occur usually depends on what complaint is being preempted; however, a simple rule can help:

Use preemption only with those customers it is relevant to or only at the point when it is relevant.

In the case of Domino’s, it has a tremendous opportunity to preempt during the order process — and to only preempt with customers who are actually ordering an Artisan pizza. If you look at the three screen shots below (click to enlarge), Dominos clearly separates the Artisan line as different, but obviously, this has not been enough to stop the complaints.

Domino's Ad Campaign | Ordering Screenshots

A simple pop-up when the customer clicks on the Artisan tab could go a long way towards preempting the complaints.

“Our Artisan pizzas mark a new height in the evolution of Dominos pizza! While you can add or subtract the existing ingredients, we are unable to add different toppings to the Artisan line. If you wish to customize your toppings, please click on Build Your Own Pizza and create your own pizza masterpiece.”

A similar message could be tailored for phone orders.

Would this preempt every complaint? Of course not, but it will also not emphasize “saying no” in a major ad campaign that not only reaches existing but also potential customers.

All in all, a much better way to attack the problem.

A Final Note On Domino’s Marketing Strategy

It is amazing how the most subtle of differences can alter success. Both the Turnaround Campaign and the No Campaign operated on a similar principle — attempting to boldly take a weakness and turn it into a strength.

Why was one successful and the other seems as if it will not be?

In the old campaign, the Company was the foil. Domino’s itself was the butt of the joke. In the No campaign, the customer is. It’s a subtle difference but, in the end, a critical one.

What was your reaction when you first saw the Domino’s No Campaign?

26 thoughts on “Marketing Domino’s: Should an Ad Campaign Tell Customers NO?”

    1. I thought it was very strange not to find the ad online anywhere. I think it’s bad because, as far as I can tell, the upside isn’t there. See my response to Michelle.

  1. I haven’t yet seen the commercial, Adam, but I have to give Domino’s credit for doing something counterintuitive and saying “No” publicly. I think it’s going to make their Artisan pizzas more attractive. They seem “special” now.

    Just a gut feeling.

    Their website at does have a large “sign” on the front page that says “Artisan Pizza: ‘No’ Has Never tasted So Good. We spent years perfecting its thinner, hand-stretched crust and topping combinations. One taste, and you’ll understand why when it comes to adding different toppings to our Artisan pizza, we have to say ‘no.'”

    I like it!

    1. Of course, we won’t know until some real data is in, but I think it fails because the message is incongruous with the brand Domino’s has established. One, not only Domino’s but the entire fast pizza industry is steeped in choosing toppings. It is an expectation that is firmly set. In order to get away with not doing so for the Artisan line, D’s is promoting a message that the quality of that line of pizzas is so high that they cannot be touched. Like a 5-Star chef refusing to add salt to his signature dish … except that it’s Domino’s, not a 5-star restaurant.

      I think it’s a hard message to sell. And for the record, I really like their new pizza and am a loyal Domino’s customer.

      If you are right, and the “special” message resonates, then I will stand corrected. Based on the online response, it doesn’t seem to be happening. And the “No” is a big turnoff.

      1. Funny you should say “it’s Domino’s, not a 5-star restaurant,” because last night when Scott and I wanted pizza, we went to Junction Trattoria and — for the same price as Domino’s — ate a “real” pizza pie, in a little Italian bistro! So I hear you, Adam!

        I buy three pizzas a week from Domino’s for a group of teens, and while they love Domino’s, it doesn’t come close to Junction or Exeter Pizza, which is just 2 minutes away. It’s the price I’m interested in, of course, so Domino’s wins. It’ll be interesting to see if Domino’s can cut into that market segment looking for “delicious.”

        1. Speaking of delicious, the new Domino’s parmesan Bread Bites are really good! That was an ad campaign that worked. 🙂

          As for the marketing, I just think it’s a losing position to try to take, and an even worse way to try to take it.

  2. hootie the alien

    Hi Adam

    Great post. Being a native NYCer i wont eat dominos. I ate a lot in college in arizona state and north carolina-greensboro but more due to the other chains sucking even worse and not having good alternatives. The first campaign was risky. It said we have always sucked sorry for 25 years we made believe we diddnt and for 98% of the country who doesnt know good pizza and the fact dominoes competes on price va quality/taste they didnt know.

    Now they take a risk because the new pizzas still suck in my opinion. So while i havent tried the artisan they risk me being even more offended. But i like their upfront honesty which says ‘we still compete as a low cost business so personalizing means increasing the pice’ while hiding behind the word artisan.

    But that is ok. Their customers order because of price not taste. They choose between them and their competitors baswd on who has thw best deal and they dont deserve thw choice off toppings and should not complain. So great campaign in my opinion!

    Now they go even riskier because i am pretty sure the artisan piea are stiii

    1. Thanks Howie — I think we disagreed on the quality of the pizza last time! 🙂 I’m a Southern boy, and my pizza tastes just aren’t as sophisticated as you NYC and Chicago folks!

      I’m not sure the messaging is that on point. As I mentioned to Michelle, D’s is asserting that the reason they cannot mess with the Artisan is that the pizzas are too perfect as-is. You and I are both assuming there are operational/cost reasons for the policy. So, the messaging is more of an attempt to put a spin on the “why.” Big picture, I think it was just a mistake to focus their campaign around it. There hasn’t been a lot of response online — so it might just be the complain-about-everything folks commenting — but I can say the response to the campaign was overwhelmingly negative on the sites I visited. Most people seem to be taking away the “No” message, instead of the “quality” message.

      PS. I think your comment got cut off at the end.

      1. Howie at Sky Pulse Media

        I agree 100% the message is spin.

        As for your comment about being a southern boy I am a UNC-Greensboro Grad and also went to ASU in Phoenix. Dominoes in my view is better than Roundtable, Pappa Johns, Little Caesars and on par with Pizza Hut. That is who they compete with but their advertising tries to make us feel they are more upmarket with message…except when we see the deal price we should know. My roommate at UNCG was a manager at Little Caesars and in 89-91 they used cheese food vs real cheese LOL He would bring home pies and I wouldn’t eat them.

  3. First of all, we are just out of the zone of two Domino delivery areas and every time we try to order one it becomes a cluster and they mess it up so Domino’s does not make our pizza list. I’m a Papa John’s guy and the wife likes Pizza Hut and we get it any damn way we like.

    My first thoughts were, ‘are these thing pre-made; are they fresh?’ My second thought was, ‘ok, this is unique enough maybe it will drive traffic for awhile’. I guess only time will tell………..

    You know me however, I will plow through anything; just make sure you cook it enough that it is at least edible……….:).

    Hola, sir.

    1. That’s what you get for living between two real cities! I actually prefer Domino’s to both of those other brands — at least the new recipe. But like any franchise system, your experience is only as good as your local store.

      I guess it’s like an insurance company creating an ad campaign around the most common thing they don’t cover…

    1. I’m curious to see how it all plays out. Also, curious how they measure success for a campaign like this — lack of customer complaints about being forbidden from adding toppings, increased Artisan sales, a combination…? It’s a strange campaign — what does the company consider a win?

  4. Interesting. I haven’t seen the new add yet but I would agree that flat telling customers “no” probably isn’t the best approach. There have been some great customer service stories and progress for the company since their reformation; hopefully they don’t loose it all over this.

    1. Hi Cathy, I agree; the company has made tremendous progress lately. I don’t think this campaign will be catastrophic in any way. I just think there were better ways to approach the problem and certainly better messages to promote in a national ad campaign.

      Welcome to CTS! Thanks for taking time to stop by.

  5. My parents are from the City (and what other City is there, I ask you?) , so we learned early what real pizza tastes like on road trips to Manhattan and Brooklyn, and even though we were raised upstate, the only time we had Pizza Hut or Domino’s was at school or a friend’s party.

    That was the only thing I had to say not loaded with speculation. Now on to that: these things have got to be pre-made. No artisan pizza is exactly the same every time, as anyone who’s watched the guys spin the dough in the shop can tell you. And I agree with Howie it’s risky to say “No” on the basis that their pizza is perfect–especially since there are nearly as many different perfect pizzas as there are people.

    1. Yes, even we Southern folks know there is only one “The City.” 🙂

      The perfection messaging just doesn’t seem congruous with their brand. The NO concept carries a lot of negatives, if the offsetting positives aren’t there, it’s a bad combo. Good to see you Shakirah!

  6. I agree with your more positive, expectations-setting approach. I don’t mind that you can’t change the toppings, but I do prefer knowing why and a simple, non-confrontational explanation is far better than “no–because we said so, and we’re proud of it!”

    1. That’s a great word to describe the ad — confrontational. It truly does send a message of the company versus the customer.

      Thanks for stopping by Rusty!

  7. All I can say is this: before this little conversation about this ad, I would never have ordered an artisan pizza from Dominos. Now, I will.

    That’s not ad failure.

  8. I’m not a Domino’s fan in general, although I did give them a second shot after they changed the recipe. That didn’t do it for me (too much garlic),but once again I tried the new artisan pizzas (pre-No campaign). It was decent and I might have ordered it again..but then they did this. As a background, I will stop eating at places if I hate their ads enough. Domino’s has now earned that distinction. In the courtroom, good trial lawyers live on a principle of Newton’s law: if you tell the juror how they must think, they immediately press back against it. I felt the same way about this ad. As soon as they said, “no”, my first thought was “Are you serious, I can’t add anything? That’s ridiculous” This was followed quickly by, “Wait, not only are they saying I can’t add anything to it, but they are launching an entire ad campaign on this?” I hate every aspect of it. If it is costs you are worried about, charge me the up-charge to add toppings and move along. If you can’t do it because its pre-made frozen crap, then perhaps you shouldn’t run an add campaign touting how fantastic it is to begin with. Fortunately, I wasn’t a big fan to begin with. However, with one being located within a half mile from my house I would have occasionally still bought a pizza. No more.

  9. This is a stupid move by Dominos. Yes all business have limits, but to put a limit on what you can put on a pizza? is not a pizza anymore. They have meatlovers, vegi lovers, hawaiian, bbq, white, for a reason, but a customer can add/remove any topping he/she wishes – Some people don’t eat ground beef, or like onions, thats why it is important for any pizza store to allow for this type of customization. I doubt this artisan pizza idea will take off very well.

  10. I used to order from Dominos three times a month. That is until they started the “Say NO to the Customer” campaign. I haven’t ordered a pizza from them since (which makes Pizza Hut happy). The irony is that I’ve never ordered the Artisan, so their ads don’t directly apply to me. However, the “we are a big corporation that doesn’t care about you” mentality from the campaign does apply to me and that’s why I’ve chosen not to give them my business anymore. I think the ads have had a mass negative effect because not only have they disappeared, but now Dominos is giving away a lot of freebies and steep discounts (i.e. 50% off your order) to get consumers back. They won’t get me back, however, until they apologize for the campaign.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Joe. That’s interesting about the increased couponing; I had not noticed that. I’ll be interested to see if any data comes out regarding the success or failure of the campaign. It’s obviously struck a negative chord with a lot of people.

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