Eleven Reasons Domino’s Turnaround Campaign Worked

By: Guest | June 6, 2011 | 

Adam Toporek is the owner of IntenseFence Management Solutions and blogs about small business and franchising.

The past decade has seen some great public relations campaigns, particularly in the for-profit realm.

Doritos knocked it out of the park when it “crashed” the Super Bowl, Tourism Queensland put its island on the map when it created The Best Job in the World, and Old Spice reignited its stodgy brand by convincing women that buying their grandfather’s deodorant will give their husbands six-pack abs. (Testimonial from my wife: “Old Spice is full of crap.”)

To me, however, the Domino’s turnaround is the most brilliant PR campaign in recent memory.

In the midst of a recession, in a hyper-competitive and mature industry, Domino’s completely realigned the perception of its product and its brand while generating measurable financial results for its stakeholders. And it did so through an innovative marketing campaign that seamlessly integrated traditional advertising, social media, and public relations.

Eleven Reasons Domino’s Turnaround Campaign Worked

  1. Strategic planning. The company was thorough and patient. They took 18 months and spent tens of millions of dollars developing its new product. They waited  until the product was ready before Crispin Porter & Bogusky began creating the campaign.
  2. Benchmark for readiness. Their CEO, Patrick Doyle, stated their mission was to “create a better tasting pizza than anyone in the category. Period.” Benchmark: It was time to go live when they beat their competition in taste tests.
  3. Focused, simple messaging. Our old product was bad, Domino’s is a transparent organization that listens to its customers, and our new product is awesome. That simple… and that effective.
  4. Calculated risk. Doyle admits he was hesitant about the negative messaging. They did thorough testing before coming up with the right balance of positive and negative in the Turnaround Campaign.
  5. Commitment to its message and strategy. The company burned its bridges, boats, and boxes when it launched the Pizza Turnaround. The company so thoroughly trashed its old product that forward was its only possibility. Falling back to “Domino’s Classic” was not an option.
  6. Integrated marketing and PR. All of the campaigns mentioned above blended what I would call the three legs of the modern marketing stool: Traditional advertising, public relations, and online/social. The Turnaround Campaign did not approach public relations in isolation and made sure all campaign components supported its core messages.
  7. Remembered internal PR. They respected the fact that it would need buy-in from a large and diverse network of franchisees and employees to succeed, and it focused on internal PR as well.
  8. Attacked the competition’s strengths. While rebranding its product and company, they went straight after the long-touted competitive advantage of Papa John’s: Better ingredients and taste.
  9. On the ground tactics. They knew that getting the product into consumers’ mouths was the key to success, so it used good, old-fashioned discounting to incentivize customers to try the new product.
  10. Momentum and follow-up. They followed the Pizza Turnaround with the Pizza Holdouts, the Show Us Your Pizza, and the Behind the Pizza campaigns, all campaigns that reinforced the company’s original messages of product quality and corporate transparency.
  11. Originality and the X Factor. Let’s face it, much of the publicity they generated stemmed from being first national consumer brand to base a campaign around “we stunk; now we don’t.” It was original, edgy, and probably can’t be done again with the same effect.

Spin Sucks, But The New Domino’s Pizza Doesn’t

In the end, it is fitting to tell the story of the Domino’s turnaround on Spin Sucks, because the most important element of the campaign’s success was simple: It told the truth about the old product, and the new.

Domino’s took a long time developing its new pizza because it knew it would be risking the future of the company on its quality. No matter how authentic Domino’s story, no matter how creative its marketing campaign, it would have all fallen flat had the new product not lived up to the hype.

The Domino’s turnaround is one of the great marketing and PR stories of our time. It was unique, widespread, and told a story that resonated with consumers. Most importantly, it achieved measurable business results for the company.

While some parts of the campaign can never be replicated, other parts provide valuable lessons on the proper way PR can function as a vital component of a comprehensive marketing campaign.

Adam Toporek is the owner of IntenseFence Management Solutions and blogs about small business and franchising. He is from the South and understands that he is grossly underqualified to discuss pizza with a bunch of folks from Chicago.



  • Nerd #2

    What’s crazy is that the USP that put them on the map had nothing to do with how good their pizza tasted. They dominated in the past based on stepping into a market gap nobody had yet, “Hot, Fresh, and delivered in 30 minutes”

    But Dominoes is great example of how your business needs to evolve. If it doesn’t, you get run over by the new blood that’s wants what you have and who aren’t scared to take the risks you are as an established firm with a corporate board that’s scared to death of risk. Despite risk being what put you on the map in the first place.

    We’ll see how this works out for Dominoes. My guess is that taste isn’t gonna be enough to hold the title for long in a fast food business.

  • adamtoporek

    @Nerd #2 You nailed it with the USP. Domino’s even had the 30 Minute Guarantee for many years, but dropped it after a number of lawsuits related to their drivers created a bad “perception.” I do think they have the opportunity to maintain the leadership they established with this campaign, if they can keep the quality high in the field and maintain the perception in consumers’ minds.

    And I completely agree,it is truly rare to see a company of Domino’s size take such a risk. Has to be one of the gutsiest moves in a long while!

  • Man, now I want a pizza! Thanks a lot, Adam! 🙂

    Excellent guest post my friend. Truly. I like the way you made your points and the inside perspective you seemed to know so much about. Where did you get all that insight? I also like the relevancy that can be applied to not just campaigns, but successful brand development and management.

    Great job! Can’t wait to meet you soon!!

  • HowieSPM

    I will be the dissenter here. I just commented on an Ad Week Article about Barry McGowen winning Sears and Burger King two damaged brands. I feel Dominos turnaround is due 100% to the new formula for the pizza as well as choosing real chicken for its tenders. I haven’t tried the new recipe and never will being a native NYer and Pizza snob. But it was bad pizza. The new pizza got much better reviews.But if the product stayed the same none of the 11 points in my opinion would of fixed things. Dominos initial success was because they went national before all the saturated pizza chain competition and had a great gimmick cheap pizza delivered fast. And the fact that 80% of the US eats bad pizza (pizza hut, round table, papa johns, etc how anyone can eat that stuff by choice blows my mind LOL see pizza snob!) helped!

    I bring up B-M because Advertising can not fix a Brand. Better product will fix a brand. And I disagree that Old Spice is fixed or turned around. I see it as a dead brand that should be taken off the market. And having a cute Twitter campaign which mostly Ad people jumped on (remember 96% of the US consumers are not using Twitter today) didn’t work in my opinion. I tried their body wash last year only because I got two units for a 70% discount! Never ever will I buy it again.They lost money on me.

    So while I agree with your Domino’s strategy if they had the same old pizza in my opinion it would of failed. No one will suffer eating bad food or say driving a crappy car (chrysler brand) because the ads or marketing were great.

    But now I will be an approver. Your 11 points are a great case study on what Brands should be doing with their marketing efforts. But warning to them. Fix your product or service to be best in class or no marketing spend or strategy will save you (except for very rare exceptions)

  • adamtoporek

    @HowieSPM Thanks for the excellent comment. I actually think we are mostly in agreement. After the 11 points, I stated “No matter how authentic Domino’s story, no matter how creative its marketing campaign, it would have all fallen flat had the new product not lived up to the hype.” So, I am in complete agreement with you that the substance had to be there.

    I think where me probably do disagree is where you say that the product was 100% of the reason for the success. I think they had to have both parts to be successful. Create a great pizza and don’t get people to try it, you lose. Get people to try it and its the same lousy product, you lose. They made a great product and did a brilliant job letting the world know about it.

    Disclaimer: The term “great product” refers to fast food pizza that would offend most natives of New York and Chicago. 🙂

  • adamtoporek

    @EricaAllison My most excellent Erica. Thanks so much!

    As for the inside information… one thing that inspired me to talk about Domino’s was that I saw the CEO, Patrick Doyle, speak at a conference about a month ago. Hearing straight from the CEO’s mouth about the process he and his team went through, including all of the risks and tough decisions they had reengineering a product and pursuing such an innovative marketing strategy, really gave me a sense of just how incredible this campaign was from start to finish. Of course, the campaign has merit because it produced business results. Doyle shared some really impressive numbers for YOY store sales. Domino’s didn’t just generate buzz; they generated business and presumably gained market share.

    Looking forward to our meeting also!!!

  • jaykeith


    I have to say that from a PR standpoint the campaign was one of the more interesting that I’ve seen. I too was skeptical that they were essentially saying, “hey we know we haven’t done well, but trust us we’re REALLY listening now.” I cringed at what that might mean long term for the brand. Essentially they were admitting that their brand left a lot of be desired. And yes the campaign had all of the components that you mentioned above and was executed well (very well in fact). But do we have any hard numbers or data to support the fact that it was in fact a success? Has Dominos taken a bigger share of the pizza delivery market than it once had, and has their new recipes and overhaul truly elevated their business in terms of revenue, repeat customers and positive brand perception? I haven’t seen those numbers yet, but perhaps they haven’t been made public? If you know where they are I would love to see them.

    So was it bold? Absolutely, I’m just not sure that despite all the “marketing acclaim” it truly moved the needle. But again, perhaps I haven’t seen enough of the evidence yet.

    On a personal note I have to say I tried the “new recipe” and found it to be just as horrid as the old pizza, so for me personally the campaign got me to try and ultimately reinforced my decision to stay away. But at least they got one more $10 bill out of me, which I guess would equate to some kind of success?

    Either way, a great case study to dissect and analyze for sure.

  • adamtoporek

    @jaykeith Jay, the campaign absolutely moved the needle on revenue. When I saw Doyle speak, he shared some impressive numbers for YOY sales in stores older than a year, which is pretty much one of the gold standard of metrics in brick and mortar franchises. I will see if I can dig them up and report back.

    As for market share, I think that is tougher to gauge (especially in the short term), but I would infer from the data that they had to gain share just by the virtue of the size of the increased business. Hard to imagine it was all new demand or from out of sector.

    I’m beginning to feel like the Ricky Bobby of the Spin Sucks set. While it’s certainly not the best pizza i’ve ever had, I actually like the new pizza!

  • bdorman264

    That’s right, Adam is practically in my backyard in the F L A.

    It was definitely an interesting strategy because on the surface it appeared to have the potential to fall flat on it’s face. However, I will say I have had a couple of Domino’s since the campaign whereas I wouldn’t have before. Granted, they won’t get rich on my business but it did change the perception. BTW, Papa John’s is still be best for the franchise brands…………just sayin’………..

    And you don’t have to chime in Gini, we all know about Chicagoland deep dish pizza………

    Good article Adam and thanks for sharing; good to see you at Gini’s place, hopefully she had some pizza to share.

  • bdorman264

    @HowieSPM C’mon Howie, don’t treat Gini’s guest like that. And now you are going to say NY thin sliced is better than Chicago deep dish?

    Good points however, and I will concur partially so maybe both of you will still be my friends.

  • bdorman264

    @EricaAllison Me too and I don’t think I’m going to Domino’s…………just sayin’…

  • @bdorman264 I don’t know Bill, that Papa Johns is kind of rough out here.

  • bdorman264

    @TheJackB Better ingredients, better pizza……maybe they didn’t get the word out West, huh?

  • HowieSPM

    @bdorman264 @TheJackB just say no to bad pizza! Intervention time. Your friends are concerned about your welfare! lol I actually want to say I feel I have to try the new Dominos recipe because I have slammed it since I first tasted at Arizona State in 1985 and realize how can I bad mouth something I have never tasted! But the commercials were smart I did like them for the candor and honesty. But imagine saying ‘We admit our pizza has sucked for 25 years and now we decided to change it because you the people have spoken’

  • HowieSPM

    @bdorman264 just so you know @ginidietrich and I have already had a discussion about how they forget the cheese goes on top of the sauce! I actually really like chicago pizza. And @adamtoporek was right on with his response.

  • adamtoporek

    @TheJackB @bdorman264 Bill, my FLA compatriot; I gotta go with Jack on this one. I think the new Domino’s wins.

    Perhaps you just missed the follow up campaign Show Us Your Pizza where they demonstrate that Domino’s cheese is from real cows. (I shudder to think what it was from before.) I mean really, what other proof do you need besides a focus group on a farm? 🙂

  • adamtoporek

    @bdorman264 Thanks Bill! I appreciate you representing the F L A with me. 🙂

    It was beyond the scope of the post, but I thought the Pizza Holdouts campaign was really smart as well. They believed enough in the improved product to try to find the people that had not tried it after the earlier campaign. Obviously, they hooked you a couple of times; me as well. I think some of that is they kept finding different ways to drive home the same message.

  • @HowieSPM Gino’s East and Uno are overrated. I have a few local spots in LA that I love. Don’t do too much of the fast food stuff. @bdorman264 @ginidietrich @adamtoporek

  • @adamtoporek @HowieSPM this is where knowing your target market comes into play. I don’t see them holding a large presence in either NY or Chicago. I may be mistaken, because I can be a food snob, and so maybe I CHOOSE not to see it. Regardless, we may snicker at Dominos, but people love it. Create a great product, and know where the customers who love that product are.

  • adamtoporek

    @jaykeith Okay, here are some numbers on domestic YOY same store sales. It’s not comprehensive nor all I would want to see by any means, but should give enough of a picture:

    Q1 2010: 14.3% increase

    Q3 2010: 11 % increase

    Q1 2011: 1.4% decrease

    The 14.3% is incredible considering the economic environment, the sector, and the maturity of the company. Supposedly it is one of the highest ever gains in fast food. What is really impressive to me is the 1.4% decrease in 2011. Q1 2010 was the height of the original campaign, and they kept most of that gain a year later. With the gain D’s showed in Q3 2010, the uptick in business looks pretty consistent. So, I have to figure some of these gains came at the expense of the competition’s market share.

  • bdorman264

    @HowieSPM @TheJackB ’85 huh? Was that before or after Danny White?

  • HowieSPM

    @bdorman264 @TheJackB it was after. Trying to remember the QB that beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl the 86 season. That was a good year. Too bad I partied my way out after 5 semesters LOL I always say it was because I wanted to get more than one school under my belt.

  • Noticing Ramon DeLeon retweeted a link to this article is a good thing, I was about to mention his name as someone who I once met about how Domino’s Chicago (in particular) has surged with social media.

  • adamtoporek

    @Ari Herzog Thanks for bringing Ramon DeLeon up. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that Domino’s social media superstar was Chicago-based when I was writing the post. Maybe he’ll come here and defend his pizza!

    For anyone who hasn’t heard of him, Ramon DeLeon is worth googling. He has embraced SM at the store level in a big way. Also, I saw an interview with him from smexaminer worth watching.

  • ginidietrich

    I love the Domino’s story because it really began with some employees in a Chicago location spitting in food, making a video of it, and putting it on YouTube. The way the franchisee (I think it was Ray DeLeon) responded and then corporate was a great lesson. They responded via video on YouTube (including the operational stuff of firing the kids) and it wasn’t professionally cut. Then they began to use the social tools to connect. Then this campaign. It’s all a fantastic lesson in doing things the right way.

  • ginidietrich

    @Lisa Gerber @adamtoporek Oh they have a HUGE presence here. Not because of the pizza, but because of Ray.

  • ginidietrich

    @adamtoporek @Nerd #2 I also think there was an insurance issue, which forced them to drop the campaign. But, you’ll notice they still deliver in 30 minutes or less. They just don’t advertise it.

  • adamtoporek

    @ginidietrich @Lisa Gerber Random thought from Lisa’s post: If you order on their website, they actually have a meter that tells you where your pizza is in each stage in the process. Does that count as gamification?

  • ginidietrich

    @adamtoporek @Lisa Gerber You know what? You’re right. It’s totally a progression mechanic.

  • @ginidietrich @adamtoporek I love it when you speak in the gamification language!

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  • TaraSnow

    Domino’s has always been great to me, I love their new ingredients, but I keep coming across stories of people who have had really bad experiences with them, there are some really funny vents about them here>.

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  • Ramon_DeLeon

    Just wanted to share that this article was recently posted on the Facebook wall of Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle. He commented that he was glad the plan worked.
    As always Thanks for the kind words in the comments Gini.
    Out of Domino’s since June ’13
    Global Business speaker and
    Social Media visionary

  • Ramon_DeLeon

    Adam, Thanks for the article and kind words.