I’m fascinated by these Domino’s Pizza commercials. You have seen them, I assume. The basic plot line is that the guy who is running Domino’s has come to accept that the pizza sucks. And he promises to do something about it.
And so, the commercials somewhat sheepishly show a photo someone sent in of the pizza he received with cheese stuck to the box (“Unacceptable!”). They offer up past customer reviews that makes their pizza sound like manilla folders with Ragu on top. They talk about how basically the company had ripped off the American public for many years by giving them gawdawful substandard pizza. But now things are going to change.
I’m fascinated by this advertising turn. I always thought Domino’s marketing strategy was: “We all know our pizza is not great, but hey it’s cheap, and we’ll get it to you fast, and let’s face it, there’s at least a 50-50 shot you’re a college student who would be eating Ramen Noodles anyway so what do you care?”
But now, well, they talk about how they were betraying customers with bad pizza, and they won’t do that anymore, they are going to make a better pizza with fresher ingredients (somehow for the same low price). I was intrigued enough that we ordered Domino’s pizza a few weeks ago. Now, to me, it t was — as we used to say in North Carolina — pretty much exactly the same.* But, I’ve heard from numerous others who had a much better experience, and they say the new Domino’s pizza is much better than it was before. As my youngest daughter once said when I was trying to convince her that her food was, in fact, not too spicy: “We all have our own appetites.”
*We like qualifying our qualifiers in North Carolina — it’s very different to say “I might do that,” vs. “I could do that” vs. “I might could do that.”
But again, it’s the ad strategy not the pizza itself that interests me. I think most people like the ad. I obviously liked it enough to order the pizza again. I think most people like the fact that Domino’s was so refreshingly honest about the suckitude of its pizza … and whether it’s “refreshingly” honest or “opportunistically” honest is not our discussion point. It’s jarring when a company comes at you that hard, tells you they’ve been terrible, apologizes, says that you deserve better. I thought the BP commercials, the ones showing the various cleanup efforts, were pretty effective in that way too. This is probably the strategy that baseball steroid users should have followed.
All in all, this is the new era advertising flow chart.
1. We suck.
2. We know that we suck.
3. We promise to get better.
4. You deserve it.
Now it’s just my opinion, and I’m certainly no expert, but I don’t think the Domino’s thing will work, not long term, not unless they have a second phase planned out. This brief “We’re not good but we’re trying harder” phase apparently has worked short term — sales and stock prices jumped. And I think the initial shock of the campaign was strong. But sooner or later — and I think we’re kind of at that point now — people are going to want to stop hearing about how bad the pizza is and how bad the service is and that you’re going to try to do better. Sooner or later, you have to go that next step.
Of course, this all has made me think about the Royals because that’s how my stupid mind works. This is a team that has been three years away from success for, um, about 15 years now. The message has always been more or less the same for those 15 years: Help is on the way! Things are going to get better! Look at those minor league stars! Look at these exciting mid-level free agents! Just hang tight! We’re almost there now! Give us three more years, and then you’ll see something really special.
Three years away. Three years away. Three years away. It’s like the Vegas Walk — no matter how much you walk, the buildings never get any closer. The story never changes … at least it never changes for the fans. The Royals have had six different managers the last 15 years so for THEM the message always seems new. The Royals have had three GMS the last 15 years and for THEM the message always seems new. Last year, Royals manager Trey Hillman made an ill-conceived comment about how people didn’t understand what they were trying to do. I know why he said it … because this was the first time he had gone through this Royals rebuilding “give us three years” strategy.
But this was about the 10th time the fans had been through it so they understood perfectly, better than he did. They had seen it for more than a decade. They had heard all about “getting them to play the game the right way” and “building team chemistry” and and “teaching ’em how to win” and all that stuff. They had heard it and heard it and heard it and after a while, no matter how true it may be, the words just stop meaning anything.
The Royals, from what I can tell, really have built themselves a fabulous minor league system. The great Jim Callis over at Baseball America says that they’re favored to be ranked as the No. 1 farm system in baseball in next year’s BA Prospects book. The money and energy they have spent building that system seems like it is really close to paying off. It actually looks like the real deal. It really does look like the Royals could be a fun team in a year, two years and, yes, three years.
But how can you convince fans that THIS TIME it’s real? People have heard it all before. After all, the Royals were BA’s organization of the year in 1994 … and it has been pain ever since. The Royals have had prospects — some like Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Mike Sweeney and Zack Greinke have even become stars. The Royals have had good ideas. They Royals have had sensible plans. But nothing has worked. We’re at the point now where even Zack Greinke — who was a key figure in one of those Royals “three years away” plans — doesn’t want to go through another rebuilding process.
And so there seems nothing the Royals can really say now, nothing that will break through the walls of defeatism and the layers of doubt that they have built up for all these years. When they say, “We just ask the fans for patience” and “We know we’re on the right track,” and “It will take time, but we’re going to win here” … what the fans actually hear is “Blah blah blah, fresh new kicks, and pants blah blah blah You gotta like that now you know you wanna dance blah blah blah.”
But what if the Royals went the Domino’s route? What if they went for the bluntest of blunt honesty. Supposedly the Minnesota Timberwolves are trying this now … but they don’t have the extensive bad history the Royals do. What if the Royals featured a commercial with Dayton Moore going, “OK, look, let’s not kid anybody. It’s been bad around here. Really bad. Embarrassing, really. We know that. Neifi Perez, anyone? Juan Gonzalez? Mike Jacobs? Yeah, we’ve made a few mistakes around here. You deserve better than that, Kansas City baseball fans.
“But we’ve heard you. What we’re going to do now is play our guys. No more trying to fool you with Rick Ankiels. No more trying to convince you that every good young player we ever get is the next George Brett. No more Kyle Farnsworths. No more dumping our best players for 50 cents on the dollar when their contract comes up. That’s over.
“No, from now on we’re not going to change the plan every time we hit a speed bump. No, we’re not going to treat our promising young players like we don’t like them, not anymore. No, we’re not going to rush our favorite prospects to the big leagues before they’re ready. No we’re not going to bring in these middling thirty-something free agents who were pretty good four years ago. We’re going to build this thing by scouting better, developing better, spending money to acquire talent and by staying strong. We’re going to do that because you deserve it.”
Hey, I think people might embrace that kind of honestly … that is if the Royals actually DO get better. That’s the second part of the plan. Because in the end, brutal honesty might get people to try your pizza again. But if it still tastes like manilla folders with Ragu on top, they won’t get fooled again.