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It takes a big company to admit it serves an inferior product. And usually, such admissions should be downplayed in advertisements. But Domino’s pizza, which became famous in the 1980s for its “30 minutes or free” deal, has broken away from the conventional wisdom in its latest ads that compare the pizza crust to cardboard and the sauce to ketchup.

In the past, taste and quality have not been the main selling point or focus of the company. But as competitors stress the quality of their ingredients, Domino’s has been forced to expand its horizons. For example, it has added menu items like toasted sandwiches that have to taste good if they are to compete with already established offers. Along the way, Domino’s realized it was ready to reposition itself with a new pizza recipe too.

In the new ads, Domino’s shows chefs wincing as consumers complain about the taste and quality of their pizzas. The incoming CEO also appears, reflecting on his claim that the chain had no choice but to be honest about its old pizza recipe if it had any hope of winning back customers. The chefs promise a new recipe with better ingredients and more flavor; to make the offer seem more credible, they also promise a money-back guarantee for anyone who doesn’t like the new taste.

Although rare, this strategy is not unheard of. Other companies have commented on their perceived shortcomings in ads; perhaps most famously, Volkswagen admitted its Bug was an ugly car (though in this case, the admission was more humorous than anything). The tactic can be particularly effective when the majority of the market agrees about the flaws. In this context, Domino’s strategy might backfire, because its offering has always been based on convenience rather than flavor. Will consumers start to assess its value in a whole new way now?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think this strategy will work? What is the benefit of the money-back guarantee for this advertising effort?

Ashley Heher, “Our Pizza Didn’t Taste Good, Domino’s Says in New Ads,” Boston Globe, January 12, 2010.

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