As recently as a few years ago it would have been hard to imagine a chain like Domino’s launching a new pizza line under the name Artisan with a straight face. But times, Domino’s brand persona, and fast food standards have changed.
Responding to a marketplace trend that emphasizes quality ingredients and emboldened by the success of its 2009 Pizza Turnaround campaign, in which the chain documented the reinvention of its admittedly substandard core product, Domino's has indeed launched a range of Artisan Pizzas. The move may still provoke some eye rolls, but Domino's has done some heavy lifting to up its credibility in playing the gourmet card.
The Artisan lineup includes three flavors, Spinach and Feta, Italian Sausage and Pepper Trio, and Tuscan Salami & Roasted Veggie, all on a rectangular, lighter crust. Not exactly a category-shattering assortment, but the "chef-created" offerings are Domino’s way of planting a higher quality stake in the fast food market and pre-empting a premium player from gaining traction in the mass market pizza sector.
"I think consumer tastes have changed pretty dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years," says Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle. "When you look at how Chipotle is doing vs. Taco Bell and all the better burger places that are popping up and prospering, it’s all about food quality and authentic, good food. So we think we’re being smart by following the lead." Doyle says the idea for the Artisan line came from asking consumers what opportunities they thought existed for Domino’s. "Over time you’re going to see the overall quality of Domino’s getting elevated from where it used to be. We don’t want to make room for someone to come into the pizza category—it’s going to be us."
The ads supporting the launch play with the past campaigns’ focus on realism and transparency. The spots start with a misdirect—in one spot, Top Chef contender Fabio Viviani fumbles his lines while being flanked, gratuitously, by scantily clad model types. The spot then cuts to folksy Domino’s pizza chef Brandon Solano, who calls BS on the flash-and-pander and makes a straight-up appeal for viewers to try the pizzas, on offer for $7.99. Cue the rolling pizza cutter.
Doyle says the straightforward approach is an extension of what the company has been doing since the start of Pizza Turnaround. "We’re not going to use tricks in our photography anymore and we’re going to be straight-up about our approach," Doyle says. "That’s how a lot of advertisers approach this and a lot of those clichés come out. It’s not who we are. We used [the cameo] as a way to capture people’s attention and then we look them straight in the eye and say, ‘Look, it’s simply a great pizza; we don’t need the gimmicks. Just try it and we know you’ll like it’."
According to an informal taste test at Fast Company HQ, Doyle’s confidence is not unfounded. FC staffers sampled the three new pizza combos, all of which earned surprisingly high overall ratings and favorable comments. Fans noted an improvement in ingredient quality and general flavor. Skeptics cited that the crust, while improved, still betrayed the pie's mass market provenance (for New Yorkers spoiled by the otherworldly char and chew of a truly artisan Neopolitan, the bar is pretty high there).
The campaign style is partly to preempt any skepticism over a pizza-delivery chain entering the more upscale market that a lofty descriptor like "artisan" suggests. Tony Calcao, VP Group Creative Director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the agency responsible for the campaign, says one of the key elements of marketing this new product launch was addressing the question of whether or not Domino’s even had a right to make a gourmet product.
"We started with the elephant in the room: ‘Can you even believe that Domino’s is making an artisan pizza?’" says Calcao, adding that this tension shaped the direction of the campaign.
"We know that it takes a lot to believe that Domino’s has an artisan pizza. We understand it’s hard to prove they have an artisan pizza and we realize there’s nothing we can do or show to get you to believe that this truly is an artisan pizza," he adds. "So we have a little fun with that and show some conventional and ridiculous ways of proving it before just going at the truth."
The giant step forward from the cardboard-crust legacy of Domino’s of old is all a result of the culture of transparency that came when the company embarked on the Pizza Turnaround. Much more than a campaign, Doyle says the willingness and ability to speak frankly and directly to their consumers that the initiative engendered permanently altered the ethos of the company.
"We’ve changed dramatically. In terms of the relationship with our consumers, by being completely honest and open with them and showing real accountability for what we do, we’re building a level of trust that I think is pretty unique not only in our industry but I think in business," Doyle says. But it’s not just the relationship with customers that has changed. "It’s been incredibly powerful inside the company. There’s no disconnect with our public persona and how we behave as an organization."
Beyond the benefits of having an engaged and connected workforce, Doyle counts the company’s ongoing transparency transformation as the chief reason Domino’s is able to offer customers a higher-end product in a category not known for catering to a refined palette.
"Frankly, if we hadn’t changed our original pizza, I don’t think we would have been able to do this. We’re in a position now where we get credibility with consumers around the quality of our food. If we tried to do this without that food credibility, I think it would have been a failure."