Marketing Domino’s: Should an Ad Campaign Tell Customers NO?
Adam Toporek Keynote Speaker of Customers That Stick®

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


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?

About the Author Adam Toporek

By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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