Case Study

How Domino's and Crispin Porter & Bogusky transformed the pizza chain into a tech company

Could you turn around a famous US brand with a half-century of heritage, but one suffering from a derided product, falling sales and tanking share price? Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Domino's tell us how they transformed the chain into a tech company that delivers pizzas.

How Domino's and Crispin Porter & Bogusky transformed the pizza chain into a tech company

The Domino’s story since 2010 is one of radical transformation. From last place in consumer "taste" rankings to first; from negative sales to an industry record, and 22 quarters of consecutive sales growth in the US. From online orders comprising less than 20% of the business, to more than 50%. From a stock price of $2.61 in 2008 to a high of $172.62 in 2016. From a broken company to a spirit of "anything is possible". 

Whether it’s the food, the people or surprising innovations, Domino’s has proved that a willingness to tackle the hard issues head-on, embrace change and dream bigger can transform a brand.

In 2009, after serving the same style of pizza for 50 years, Domino’s was in trouble; sales were
declining, the stock price had tanked, and our customers described the pizza as tasting like cardboard. It took a new recipe and radical transparency to persuade our customers to give us a second chance. 

While the "Pizza Turnaround" campaign immediately yielded record sales, the brand transformation has continued in subsequent years. Domino’s willingness to change, be accountable and innovate beyond the expected justifies our "Oh yes we did" tagline every time we launch a campaign.

Damning: pizza fans’ negative comments were featured in the ‘Pizza turnaround’ video (2009)

Back in 2008, the economic downturn hit the whole quick-service restaurant (QSR) category as a whole, with many franchise-owners in the red, year after year. All the major chains were in a battle to win the average customer’s 21 "pizza occasions" each year. The largely non-loyal customer base would decide which to choose based on the best deal, convenience and taste.

To make matters worse, for decades, Domino’s had adopted the typical fast-food playbook, launching gimmicky products and limited-time offers for a short-term sales boost. 

We had also grounded our brand promise in speed, with the "30 minutes or free" campaign, a functional benefit that led to the perception that Domino’s mindlessly and robotically cranked out unappetising pizzas. This led to the commoditisation of the product, in an already commoditised ind-ustry. There were no Domino’s fans. There was no loyalty; no brand love.

Leading up to the "Pizza turnaround", Domino’s had posted quarter after quarter of lacklustre sales. 

To make matters worse, our stock price plummeted to an all-time low of $2.61 in November 2008. 

Drastic action was needed: launching a new pizza recipe was the only option. Positioned in an honest, account-able way, the recipe persuaded customers to give Domino’s a second chance. It was so successful that it yielded an industry record for same-store sales gains, of 14.3% in the first quarter after the launch.

Since then, in the midst of an improving economy, Domino’s has outpaced the market, posting quarter after quarter of healthy sales increases and massive share-price rises.

The strategic communications challenge

Domino’s invented pizza delivery in the 1960s, but after decades focusing on speed of delivery, product quality suffered. We tied for last place with fast-food and family entertainment-centres chain Chuck E Cheese’s in industry taste tests, leaving us with the challenge of overcoming decades of negative consumer sentiment. 

The communications challenge was simple, yet delicate – persuade customers to give us a second chance. Beyond that, in an industry with very little customer loyalty, how could we not only get people to like our product again, but believe in the company enough to stick with us? We couldn’t reinvent the pizza repeatedly.

We needed to put the consumer at the centre of the experience. To continue the momentum, we had to continue to take action.

Transforming the brand meant gaining a deep understanding of the business, both in terms of its role in culture and by analysing the volumes of data and metrics to which we had access, and looking for opportunities within. 

This led to an additional key insight. While online-ordering awareness was quite low, at just 40%, those who did use Domino’s ecommerce site reported the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Additionally, we uncovered that online orders had a higher average value than phone orders, and were placed more frequently. Therefore, we set the goal to grow the digital business to account for 50% of all transactions by 2015. This was not an obvious goal – at the time, buying goods online was becoming more acceptable, but purchasing food online was not. 

These insights fuelled a multi-year strategy to increase awareness and use of online ordering to drive the business.

Domino’s: set itself the goal of growing its digital orders to account for 50% of all transactions by 2015

Defining the audience

Pizza is universal. So, at a broad level, we were working to overcome years of people’s negative perceptions across the US. Qualitative studies and focus groups revealed just how difficult the challenge would be, producing damning customer quotes such as "Domino’s tastes low-quality and forgettable," and "Domino’s pizza crust to me is like cardboard." 

Beyond getting people to give us a try, we set a lofty goal to bring once-loyal defectors back to the brand, a target we called "Boomerangs".

"We swallowed our pride, admitted that we ‘sucked’ and that it was time for a change"

Many initiatives and campaigns targeted these outspoken critics. Beyond the Boomerangs, we also focused on bringing in new customers. 

To do that, we homed in on a target we call the "Pizza Flirts". These are pizza-eaters, but not loyal to any one brand, especially in the QSR pizza category. Specifically, they are defined as people who eat at Domino’s, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut or Little Caesars, but do not claim to eat one brand most often. This group was the most likely to convert to Domino’s. 

In essence, we were trying to add another order from our existing customers who "eat around".

The key objectives

Same-store sales A key indicator of company success, same-store sales growth was the primary metric that was tracked as the company rallied to return value to its independent franchise-owners. After many quarters of flat or declining sales, bolstering positive sales growth at the store level was the first priority.

Stock value Because Domino’s is a publicly traded company, stock value is also an important metric. After years of decline, and that all-time Domino’s Pizza Inc low in November 2008, increasing the stock price had become a critical goal.

Digital ordering Digital orders were identified as being more profitable to the business and yielding a higher customer-satisfaction rating. In 2011, the goal was set to move the proportion of digital sales from just over 20% to more than 50% by 2015.

Target It was important to win back the hearts of our customers. As one way to measure success, we tracked key consumer confidence indicators (value, quality and taste).

The insight that led to the big idea

The insight was simple – there wasn’t much love for Domino’s. That might be putting it mildly, because, after reading page after page of customer reviews, it was clear that there was dislike for the pizza, and that people were quite passionate in their disdain. 

"We aimed to become a truly transparent brand and begin a never-ending mission of improvement"

Instead of running away from the problem, we realised that the only way to get Domino’s customers to trust us again was to come clean. So we swallowed our pride and did what no other big US company, or no person in government, would do: we admitted that we "sucked" and that it was time for a change.

But we couldn’t stop there. We were on a mission to be the first truly transparent brand. To do so,we had to continue to prove Domino’s would do whatever it takes not only to right the wrongs, but also exceed people’s expectations of a pizza company. To do things that would lead people to say: "Did they really do that?" Oh yes we did. If we did that time and time again, if we focused on continual improvement, people would not only begin to root for us, they would fall in love with us.

The big idea

We aimed to become the first truly transparent brand by publicly admitting that we sucked, and begin a never-ending mission of improvement.

Bringing the idea to life 

To launch the new recipe, we had to do something bold to get people’s attention. It started by admitting our pizzas sucked, as relayed to us by real Domino’s employees and customers in the "Pizza turnaround" long-form video and TV spot, which launched in December 2009. 

Employee meetings were held and filmed, as we captured real reactions to focus-group footage of customers saying things like "This tastes low-quality and forgettable" and "Domino’s crust is a little too rubbery". 

Chief executive Patrick Doyle vowed publicly: "There comes a time when you’ve got to make a change, you’ve got to move forward." That’s exactly what we did, by telling the story in the most honest way we could to consumers. The TV spot posted the highest Millward Brown ad-testing score ever recorded at that time.

"To make and deliver the best possible pizza, you need to look at every step of the process"

Next, we created an online home for the documentary at pizzaturnaround.com. The microsite also streamed social reviews of the new pizza, good or bad, for everyone to see. To push accountability, we had to let our consumers make up their own minds about the pizza. 

The shocking tone of the campaign immediately jump-started sales, which broke industry records for same-store sales growth in the first quarter following the launch. The stock price increased in just three months. 

Clients cheered. Franchisees cried. The press ran with the story to the tune of 500 million earned-media impressions. TV host and comedian Stephen Colbert aired a four-minute tribute to the new pizza and campaign, which is still referred to in political commentary as setting the bar for much-needed honesty and transparency – not only in advertising, but in the government arena as well. 

So then what? We couldn’t reinvent the pizza again. To maintain the momentum, we had to continue to take action to prove that our food and brand were worthy of a second chance. So we set forth with a work-in-progress, anything-is-possible spirit, and a brand platform built around the tagline "Oh yes we did."

‘At the door’ (2010)

To follow the launch, we showed up at the front doors of the same people who slammed us in
the focus groups, and got their take on the new pizza. The content was featured on TV and online via the next nationwide campaign.

‘Holdouts’ (2010)

Next, to capture the taste buds of people who had yet to try the new
rec-ipe, and who were known sceptics, we blanketed several towns with billboards and posters naming the individuals we wanted to give us a second chance. Their reactions became the basis for an integrated campaign, backed by a social experience called "Taste bud bounty", in which people could place "bounties" on their friends on Facebook who also hadn’t tried the new pizza. Users were rewarded with free products as "taste buds were captured".

‘ShowUsYourPizza’ (2010)

The next iteration of food transparency came through the launch of "ShowUsYourPizza", in which we revealed the "dirty secrets" of food photography shoots and how some restaurants deceptively portray their food in advertising. We vowed never to "doctor" or Photoshop images of our pizzas again. 

We featured the content on TV and across our owned-media channels, and to further underline the concept, we asked customers to take pictures of their own Domino’s pizzas and upload them to showusyourpizza.com. 

The site hosted a "PhotoPromise", a gallery of submitted images, and a photo contest. Winning photos were selected and used in promotions across Domino’s media channels, including Dominos.com, emails and banners. More than 40,000 images were submitted, some of which are still used in marketing materials. 

To push the idea further, when several less-than-appealing photos were submitted, CEO Doyle took the spotlight in our next TV campaign, displaying one particularly bad image of a pizza that had been smashed into its box during delivery, apologising, and using the message to improve delivery quality across the company. "Brice from Minnesota, you shouldn’t have to get this from Domino’s," he said. "We’re better than this. We’re not going to fail. We’re not going to deliver pizzas like this."

‘Behind the pizza’ (2010)

To further demonstrate that Domino’s makes pizza using high-quality ingredients, we took our customers straight to the farm, escorting focus-group participants in blacked-out limousines to staged focus-group meeting rooms set up in the middle of fields. 

The TV spot opened on members of the group answering questions about where they thought Domino’s ingredients came from, before the walls of the room came crashing down to reveal real farms, with real farmers and real home-grown goodness. 

We also took the quality message online, building behindthepizza.com. 

The site told the story of each ingredient’s origin and journey to customers through an animated map. On average, people spent more than 20 minutes on the site – nearly the equivalent of a sitcom (without ads) in earned-media engagement.

‘Rate Tate’s chicken’ (2011)

When the time came to launch a product – chicken wings – the only logical way to do it was to get our customers involved again. Prompts on the delivery boxes drove them to RateTatesChicken.com, where they were asked to vote on the quality of the product introduced by Tate Dillow, one of our chefs. 

When reviews brought up a key issue – that some of the pieces were too small – we improved standards nationwide. This campaign continued to reinforce the brand’s commitment to listening to its customers, and improving.

‘Times Square tracker’ (2011) 

Next, we collected customer reviews on Dominos.com and streamed them, unfiltered, in one of the most public places in the world – New York’s Times Square. The same reviews were also displayed in real time on monitors in stores for the pizza-makers to see, giving them a vote of confidence – or, in some cases, a nudge to improve quality. 

Images of the billboard were rec-orded and time-stamped via a fixed camera, and sent to each person who submitted a review to prove the authenticity of the campaign. We even created a national TV spot to show it off. There was a 95% increase in reviews submitted to the site, which led to a four-out-of-five star rating, on average.

‘Think oven’ (2012)

When a franchisee invented Domino’s next new product – Parmesan Bread Bites – in his Ohio store, we docu-mented the backstory for our TV campaign. It proved that great ideas can come from anywhere, and inspired the launch of a crowd-sourced innovations platform on Facebook called the Domino’s Think Oven. Consumers and fans were invited to participate in assignments, including designing the next generation of Domino’s uniforms, creating online ordering innovations, or submitting any idea through the digital suggestion box.

‘Pan Pizza – fresh vs frozen’ (2012)

After years of work developing a pan pizza that was up to Domino’s new quality standards, we brought the story to life by taking a dig at our rivals, which use frozen dough to make their pizzas. As chief executive Patrick Doyle threw the competition’s frozen dough disk into the trash in the spot, it was a perfect segue to "romance" the process of making our new Handmade Pan Pizza.

‘DXP – delivery expert’ (2012)

If you’re going to make and deliver the best possible pizza, you need to look at every step of the process, from ingredients to the way it’s delivered to the customer’s door. While the idea of a pizza company making a car is a wild one, we kicked off a multi-year project to do just that. 

We worked with innovative manufacturer Local Motors to build the "ultimate pizza-delivery vehicle", engaging consumers and Local Motors’ online community of engineers and designers along the way. A TV ad featured Doyle listening to what delivery drivers wanted. After five stages of co-creation, a design was selected and the work began to make it a reality.

‘Slow pan’ (2013)

To further distance the brand from its history of speed over quality, when it came time to talk about our Handmade Pan Pizza again, we told consumers that we were willingly slowing things down to make it the right way. This meant changing the process, and literally slowing down the time it took to create and bake the pizza. Not something typical from a "fast-food" company. A TV spot "romanced" the process to further raise the perception of the quality of our pizzas.

‘Failure is an option’ (2014)

When it came time to launch a new type of product – Specialty Chicken (part pizza, part chicken) – we did so in the most honest and direct way we knew how: by admitting that we didn’t know whether it would be a success or a failure. The TV spot featured the head of Domino’s operations embracing the notion that failure is a key part of pushing forward, and that the company culture fully supported it. 

Then-chief marketing officer Russell Weiner said: "We are proud to be known as a pizza company, but Specialty Chicken shows we are not afraid to step out of our comfort zone and take risks – something that is truly part of our brand fabric."

‘Pizza school’ (2015)

While Domino’s competition continues to focus on gimmicky food innovations, like the Hotdog Pizza, to drive sales, we launched the "Pizza School" campaign to prove our love and dedication to making real, quality pizza. 

First, we developed a mobile food-truck pizza school – then we pulled it up to the front door of the competition, inviting employees to learn how to make pizzas the Domino’s way. 

Of course, we filmed the whole thing as it unfolded, launched an awareness campaign on TV, and drove customers to find out more on our website, pizzaschool.com, which led users through a pizza-academy world made entirely out of recycled pizza boxes. 

There, they learned about our pizza-making process, from stretching and tossing dough to "saucing" and placing toppings, sprinkling cheese and baking, all through a series of behind-the-scenes videos.


AnyWare: the platform encompasses the broad range of devices via which customers can place their Domino’s order, from smart TVs to tweeting a pizza emoji

The media strategy

Domino’s media mix is heavily focused on TV. We use the massive scale of television to establish heavy weekly reach and frequency levels across broad audiences to tell our brand-building stories. 

TV is still the most effective medium for us, and we maximise its efficiency through smart media-planning. Each ad drives consumers to order via Dominos.com, or to learn more about our campaigns via the microsite "digital experiences" we create. 

We frequently create and use microsites to serve as "proof-points" for our campaigns, and to drive awareness of digital ordering. We then promote these experiences, and our key brand messages, across a variety of owned-media channels, including Dominos.com, email and social. 

Over the past five years, additional digital video and buying tactics have been employed to further the reach of our messages across specific audiences. We also rely heavily on the ability of our ideas to generate earned-media coverage. 

Every launch is accompanied by a strong press outreach strategy, in an effort to drive organic reach beyond our paid or earned channels.

The digital transformation

Meanwhile, as we were changing consumer perception about Domino’s food and brand, we set off on a multi-year journey to become an ecommerce powerhouse. As a team, sparked by the insight to grow the online-ordering business due to better profitability and customer satisfaction, we set the goal to reach 50% digital orders by 2015, powered by the internal vision to "behave like a technology company". 

To begin, we focused on building engaging digital platforms that would communicate the brand story, serve as the proof-point to our campaigns and raise awareness for online ordering.

Phase 1 – digital engagement 

This is where our "Oh yes we did" campaign comes in: pizzaturnaround.com, to launch the new pizza recipe; "Taste bud bounty", to increase trial of the new product; "ShowUs-YourPizza", to visually reinforce the quality of our pizzas; "Behind the pizza", to educate people on the source of our farm-grown ingredients; "Rate Tate’s chicken", to help us launch new products; "Times Square tracker", to hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards; and "Pizza School", to illustrate the beauty of making quality pizzas. 

Each experience was designed to tell a story, engage our customers, and drive awareness of Domino’s online ordering platforms, including the apps.

Phase 2 – ordering enhancement

The next chapter in Domino’s digital journey involved the enhancement of the ordering platforms themselves, and, in some cases, developing new ones. 

Before the launch of "Pizza turnaround", two ordering innovations, Pizza Tracker and Pizza Builder, proved that bringing magic to the act of ordering a pizza could draw massive adoption and satisfaction from digital customers.

Audible tracker (2010)

First, we took the massive success of Domino’s Pizza Tracker, which helped customers track the progress of their orders through each stage of the process, and developed animated, audible "themes" to bring fun to the anticipation of waiting for your pizza. Various themes became an instant success, including Hair Metal, Romance, Tropical, Baseball and even Pete the Pizza-Maker – a virtual pizza chef. Millions continue to enjoy the themes each year.

Pizza Hero App (2012)

Domino's Pizza "Pizza Hero" iPad App from Andrew Lincoln on Vimeo.

To further connect delivery customers to the pizza-making process we created a game for iPad, Pizza Hero, which simulated every step of making a pizza, even down to the chaos of taking and making orders during a typical Friday-night rush. Users were graded based on quality and speed, and could order the pizzas they created in the game directly from Dominos.com. 

Beyond that, to further bridge the divide between the digital and physical worlds, we invited players who made the cut to apply for jobs in real stores. 

The app became the third-most-downloaded free app in the App Store. It has been downloaded more than two million times globally, and has led to the hiring of more than 30 new pizza chefs.

Domino’s Live (2013)

In an act of transparency, just a few years after an employee had posted a "less-than-appealing" video shot in a Domino’s kitchen, we wired up a real Domino’s store with five live-streaming webcams. Each focused on one step in the pizza-making process and was displayed, live and uncut, for a month, on DominosLive.com. 

This experimental evolution of Pizza Tracker struck a chord, generating 375 million earned-media impressions, ending up in the opening monologues of late-night TV hosts Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, and proving Domino’s pride and confidence in its process.

Pizza Profiles and Easy Ordering (2013) 

To accelerate the migration to digital ordering, we integrated Pizza Profiles in the ordering platforms. These allowed customers to save favourite orders, payment information and service method into an easily reorderable package that we called an Easy Order. This reduced the number of clicks needed to place a basic order from nearly 20 to just five. 

The project served as the foundation for future innovation, and even became a TV commercial in which a Domino’s employee urged customers not to call him at the store, as digital ordering was actually a better experience.

iPad Ordering App (2014)

When traffic to Dominos.com from iPads more than doubled, it was time to develop a new ordering platform. So we set out to build the most beautiful and highest-converting ordering experience for Domino’s. This goal led to the creation of a 3D version of our visual Pizza Builder, and a platform that quickly achieved its goals, with a 4.5-star rating on the App Store, and the highest conversion rate and average purchase value across all the ordering platforms.

Phase 3 – ordering innovation 

The current chapter of digital-ordering transformation embraces innovation in ecommerce. If there is a native way to order on a device, we will be there. In essence, rather than drive people to our ordering platforms, we’re extending ordering naturally into our customers’ lifestyles and behaviours. This led to the creation of the AnyWare ordering platform, which encompasses a variety of innovations and featured in a major celebrity-backed TV campaign, across all Domino’s owned-media channels.

Voice ordering (2013) 

We joined forces with the makers of Siri to launch the first voice-controlled pizza-ordering robot, Dom, for the Apple and Android ordering apps. 

Dom’s pizza-obsessed personality became the subject of a TV campaign, which drove healthy sales growth and doubled the app’s download rate during the course of the TV activity.

Ford Sync (2015)

We partnered Ford to create a simple ordering interface for its in-car system, AppLink, which allows users to place their saved Domino’s orders from their car with just a few voice commands.

Samsung TV (2015)

We worked with Samsung to translate the order interface to the TV screen. Users can order with just a few clicks of the remote, all while continuing to watch their favourite show. Once the order is placed, the Domino’s Pizza Tracker is appended to the bottom of the screen so people can follow the pizza’s progress to their door.

Smart watches (2015) 

We entered the wearables market by developing tappable experiences for Pebble, Android Wear and the Apple Watch that allow you to place or track your favourite orders directly from your wrist.

Emoji ordering (2015)

We created an entirely new way to order, via Twitter or a text, using nothing but the pizza-slice emoji to trigger the order. The new techno-logy was an instant hit, and immediately made its way to nearly every mainstream media outlet, including late-night TV, major news. It even featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Amazon Echo ordering (2016)

We joined forces with Amazon Echo to make ordering Domino’s as easy as letting yourself be heard. The Amazon Echo can hear your voice from across the room, and with Domino’s Skill for Amazon Echo, you can reorder your most recent pizza, place an Easy Order or track an order.

Facebook Messenger Bot ordering (2016)

Facebook isn’t just for liking your friends’ witty posts and cat videos any more. With Facebook Messenger Bot Ordering, you can reorder your most recent Domino’s order, place your Easy Order, and track your order using Domino’s Tracker, all within Messenger.

Zero Click ordering (2016) 

With the Domino’s Zero Click App for iOS and Android, users order by simply opening the app. That’s it: no tap, swipe or click. After first downloading the app, users sign in to their Domino’s Pizza Profile to access their saved Easy Order. Next time they open the app, the order is automatically placed; a ten-second countdown gives time to cancel in case it was opened accidentally.

The Zero Click app was possible only because of the groundwork laid by Domino’s Pizza Profiles and Easy Order innovations. 

Focusing on the brand and on digital transformation have led to unprecedented momentum and sales. In five years, Domino’s moved from negativity to pride. Our continued efforts prove our commitment to our customers and "anything is possible" spirit. 

As Domino’s continues to set the bar, the industry is watching, as illustrated by this 2015 quote from a JP Morgan analyst: "We have found ourselves describing the ‘new’ Domino’s as a technology company disguised as a marketing company disguised as a pizza company, and recent years of dominant out-performance…probably bears that comment as true."