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Domino’s comes clean with new pizza ads

Ashley M. Heher Associated Press

CHICAGO – For a pizza joint, it’s a bold move to tell customers your crust tasted like cardboard and your sauce was like ketchup.

But that’s just what Domino’s Pizza Inc. has been saying since last month in untraditional ads about the recipes it abandoned when it launched its reformulated pizza.

As industry observers scratch their heads, the company’s incoming CEO said the chain had no choice but to be honest about its old recipe pizza if it had any hope of winning back customers.

“The old days of trying to spin things simply doesn’t work anymore,” President Patrick Doyle told the Associated Press in an interview. “Great brands going forward are going to have a level of honesty and transparency that hasn’t been seen before.”

Using a documentary style, the TV ads offer glimpses of customers saying Domino’s pies were even worse than microwave pizza. The ads then cut to interviews in the Ann Arbor, Mich., company’s test kitchen, where chefs and executives tout the new pies’ bolder, richer flavors.

The brutally honest tone is causing many to take notice.

“It takes alpha meat balls to stand up and say ‘America, we suck,’ ” comedian Stephen Colbert said while lampooning the campaign on his show recently.

But customers who preferred the “old” Domino’s are now left in the cold, experts said.

“They are basically saying, ‘We’ve been shoveling you crap for years and now we want you to trust us,’ ” said Kelly O’Keefe, managing director of the Brand Center at Virginia Commonwealth University.

In the nation’s $36 billion pizza market, Domino’s ranks No. 2 behind Yum Brands Inc.’s Pizza Hut chain in sales and number of stores, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Often considered a leader for customer loyalty, Domino’s has scored painfully low on its pizza’s taste.

Deborah Mitchell, executive fellow at the Center for Brand and Product Management at Wisconsin School of Business, said the campaign may cause confusion because people have known Domino’s for having a quick, 30-minute delivery, not for flavor.

“It’s kind of calling out something that they’ve never been strong on,” she said.

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