Sunday, May 1, 2011

The sauce always justifies the means!

King Ferdinand I (1751 - 1825) is said to have disguised himself as a commoner and, in clandestine fashion, visited a poor neighbourhood in Naples. One story has it that he wanted to sink his teeth into a food that the queen had banned from the royal court - pizza! Poor Freddy. So much legwork for a mere pizza! We live life King-size and have home delivery instead.

If you think that the Pizza (yet another Italian import) only arouses hunger pangs in your tummy... think again. Pizza has taken the erudite route and become enlightened... without meditating under the Bodhi tree. Tatkal service... what?

Branded pizza such as Domino's and Pizza Hut 'discovered' India in early to mid 1990s, and underwent a process of self-discovery almost immediately thereafter. Result: several Indian-style toppings like Tandoori Chicken and Paneer. Italy met India with exotic pizza toppings... which once again proved beyond a shred of doubt that the whole world is one single family - 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' (from "vasudha", the earth; "eva" = emphasizer and "kutumbakam", "family" - a Sanskrit phrase.) We even have "The Slumdog" - a specialty pizza available at Bombay Pizza Co. on Main Street near Walker Street. Socialism aka Communism met Capitalism aka Free Market over a bottle of Johny Walker... I guess!

And a "Gateway to India" pizza too... filled with Tandoori chicken, crabmeat, artichoke hearts (not to choke the arteries of your heart, really!), cilantro chutney, mozzarella and provolone, and topped with fresh cilantro, all on naan bread. (But ingredients originating from the Arab world, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Persia, Portugal, France, Holland and England are conspicuous by their absence. Wonder why though *wink*.) While the Slumdog is laden with pepperoni, Spanish chorizo, Canadian bacon, beef, chicken, onions and Bombay pizza sauce. Is your mouth watering yet? I am hungry already!!

In December 2007, Domino's introduced a new slogan, "You Got 30 Minutes", alluding to the earlier pledge but stopping short of promising delivery in a half hour. Clever! No? Not unlike our UPA-nishad.

In a 2009 survey of consumer taste preferences among national chains by Brand Keys, Domino's was last - tied with Chuck E. Cheese's. In December that year, Domino's announced plans to entirely reinvent its pizza. It began a self-flogging ad campaign in which consumers were filmed criticizing the pizza's quality and chefs were shown developing the new product. The new pizza was introduced that same month, and the following year, Domino's 50th anniversary, the company acquired J. Patrick Doyle as its new CEO and experienced a historic 14.3% quarterly gain. While admitted not to endure, the success was described by Doyle as one of the largest quarterly same-store sales jumps ever recorded by a major fast-food chain.

Now, apart from answering the SOS calls of hapless dabbawallahs whose dabbas (lunch boxes) decide to take a swim without their knowledge and/or permission, Domino's fairly recent delivery - their mea culpa ad campaign was tough to beat for its sheer corporate candor. In its new TV commercial and Web video, the pizza chain admits something startling - namely, that its pizza is pretty terrible. Domino's very public admission of its own awfulness might represent the most elaborate mea culpa ad in history. But it's hardly the first. Companies sometimes admit their flaws and faults in a bid for public empathy. The strategy usually has two parts. Part one: Fess up. Part two: Vow to do better. While Domino's never quite expresses remorse, the crusty comments in its commercial do set up the company's promise to improve, with better ingredients and a new pizza recipe.

Airlines such as United and JetBlue have prostrated themselves in public to mollify travelers enraged by scheduling snafus. (In demo-crazy India of course the airlines will have none of it. They go on strike instead.) Fast-food outfits have done it, too. American car manufacturers have practically made an art of acknowledging their shortcomings; General Motors went on an apology tour starting in late 2008 when it began lobbying for billions of dollars in federal bailout funds. Last summer, as it went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, it flooded the airwaves with a commercial that acknowledged, "General Motors needs to start over in order to get stronger."

As Domino's was rolling out its self-lacerating confession, the Chicago Bears took out newspaper ads to apologize to the team's fans for its sub par performance. "In a season where we did not perform at our best, we are further humbled by the fact that our fans stepped up and did their part," the ads said. (For the record, the Bears finished with a 7-9 record, considerably better than the 4-12 Redskins, who have yet to publish any apologies.)

Acknowledging that you've messed up may win some goodwill among consumers, but marketing experts say it also carries some risks. Some people are going to hear only part of the message (e.g., Domino's stinks) and not hear the part about how they're going to get better. Thus, apology ads can reinforce negative perceptions and raise awareness of them among people who've never tried, or even heard of, the product. But you can safely leave out Bollywood, Hollywood, the various 'Woods' and the Netalog... for them any publicity is good publicity. No?

Once you've said, 'Our pizza tastes like cardboard,' you've got people's attention. Most people will ignore you if you just said, 'We're new and improved.' Every advertiser and his aunt say that. This gets people (including couch potatoes) to sit up and take notice.

Domino's also took the 'proverbial' route... and created 'Pizza Proverbs' - an online contest in the US. Of the over 7,000 customer proverbs submitted, Domino's proudly presented the 8 (of surpassing wisdom) chosen to be immortalized on their new pizza boxes.

For the folks slogging it out errr... ideating in the world of advertising, the joy of going beyond the brief and creating something that is fun, relevant and positively impacts a brand is an unmatched high. Sometimes, it involves thinking out of the box, literally. And... the sauce always justifies the means!

The winning pizza proverb:

Pizzas rush in where burgers fear to tread.

The others (which may include the Prince Charles among pizza proverbs):

1. Give a man a pizza and he'll eat for a day. Teach him to order online and he'll eat for a lifetime.
2. He who eats the last slice, pays the price... Of the next pizza.
3. An ye harm none, order what ye will.
4. He who pays for the pizza calls the toppings.
5. I hear pizza and I forget, I see pizza and I remember. I taste pizza and I understand.
6. Do not ask for whom the bell pepper tolls. It tolls for thee.

7. Pizzas are like money. Easier made than kept.
8. A watched door never brings the pizza boy sooner.
9. As soon as one gets out the box, another comes in the door.

10. Satisfying Fulfillment!
11. Good thing come to those who wait... for Domino's pizza.
12. A pizza saved is a pizza yearned.
13. Never judge a pizza by the box.
14. A garlic seasoned crust keeps the vampires away.
15. Moderation in all things... except pizza.
16. A Domino's pizza in the hand is better than two in the box.

17. Two pizzas are always better than one.
18. If you can't stand the pizza get out of the dining room.
19. A pizza's worth a thousand toppings.
20. Wow, This is Cheesy!!!

Perhaps they'll come up with a proverb to mark the much fawned over Royal wedding too! Here is mine: Domino's Katering Will successfully loosen the stiff upper lip. Watch out for the Domino's effect.

Photograph: Pics courtesy: Link.


  1. Pizzas do evolve, but Roshmi never learns how to devolve from intellectual writing to boring stuff.

    Grow up Roshmi ! Learn something from pizza and try to write some books or some articles for newspapers/magazines...

    * Great books are like Roshmi posts. Easier to read than to write

    * A Roshmi post in the mind is better than twenty in my blog .

  2. Lol! The proverbs are pretty cool!
    Waise, I am wondering why all of a sudden you decided to write about pizza. Just like that? :D
    Nice, light hearted and informative post! :)

  3. I always hated Domino's, and now the stereotype goes stronger! :)
    After all the thought provoking articles you've put up, this for a change provoked hunger :)

  4. @ Mahesh: Hahaha!

    Thanks for the compliments *I'm taking a bow displaying all my pearly whites*

  5. @ Preeti: "Waise, I am wondering why all of a sudden you decided to write about pizza"

    Just like that girl! Simbly! (This is not a typo ;)

    ... Glad you liked it :)

  6. @ Puneet: Well, its food for thought :D

  7. Booo hooo now u have made me crave for a pizza..right now!!

  8. @ Reema: So? Did you have one?

    P.S. Unlike King Ferdinand I we needn't do any legwork. Just call and ask for home delivery instead :)