At the very end of 2009, Domino’s Pizza embarked on an ad campaign that admitted what much of the dining public had known for years: Its pizza sucked. It was an admirably ballsy move, one that portrayed the chain as the fast food equivalent of a bad boyfriend or losing sports team, determined to win back the affections of those it had wronged.
Almost two years later, the campaign—which came outfitted with its own website, Twitter hashtag (#newpizza), and, not incidentally, new recipes and a line of “artisan” pizzas—seems to have paid off. Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that Domino’s stock has gained 233 percent, compared with only 37 percent for rival Papa John’s. Industry analysts attributed its accompanying growth in sales largely to the unconventional marketing strategy, which exploited the public’s loss of trust in big corporations by admitting its failures.
But is a gain for Domino’s really a gain for its customers? The company went to great and expensive lengths to convince the public it had created a better product, in part by appropriating the kind of buzzwords that make corporate marketing departments all but drop their drawers. In slapping "artisan" on its new line of pizzas, for example, Domino’s rendered the word all but meaningless—unless, of course, you believe that artisan means a pizza topped with feta instead of mozzarella, presented in a box signed by the Domino’s employee who made it.
Judging by numerous online reviews of its pizza, the company’s marketing tactics are really the only things that seem to have changed since 2009. Contemplating the merits of Domino’s Artisan Sausage and Pepper Trio, the blogger Pizza Geek wrote that the crust was “just about the worst crust I’ve ever had,” the sauce had an “institutional, acidic canned flavor,” and the cheese was “average.” On GrubGrade, the “new” pizza was rated “a slight improvement from the old.” Brand Eating compared the new crust unfavorably to “a store-bought loaf of sliced bread.” Reviewing the new recipe on Slice, Adam Kuban concluded, “It's an improvement, but obviously nothing you'd order if you've already found a better local option.”
And even Domino’s own Facebook fans seem mixed on the issue. In response to the question “Who LIKES the new Artisan Pizzas?” opinions included, “Was not worth my money, I was still hungary [sic] after,” “we had the spinach one and it was nasty,” “never ordering from dominos [sic] again the commercials are def paid actors far from real people,” and “I have had more flavorful breadsticks at places.”
To be sure, plenty of other people approve of the chain’s much-hyped efforts, even if only in relation to the comparative merits of Papa John’s. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter—Domino’s, like any other corporation, is watching its bottom line, and has already moved on. As Domino’s CEO J. Patrick Doyle told Nation’s Restaurant News, the company’s “70-country international system” will be a primary focus of its future expansion. Currently, Domino’s is thinking of adding 10 to 20 countries to its roster; Sri Lanka recently became its latest victim. So as long as the chain can win over the world’s appetites with its mass-produced charms, it could afford to serve its domestic audience a freshly polished turd, delivered in 30 minutes or less.