The Marketing Profile: Robin Auld of Domino's Pizza

LONDON - When Robin Auld reveals he is a Tai Chi devotee, it comes as something of a surprise. The voluble 35-year-old only occasionally stops for breath and to ask whether he is going on too much before launching into another stream of enthusiastic chatter. But while his ebullience seems at odds with such a chilled-out pursuit, Auld says the ancient art provides a welcome contrast to the fast pace of his job.

The Marketing Profile: Robin Auld of Domino's Pizza

Not that Auld is complaining. He exudes genuine passion for both his role and the discipline he works in. 'From a very early age I was fascinated by the psychology of marketing and what makes people tick. I've always particularly enjoyed the creative elements,' he says.

His efforts to tap into the nation's pizza-eating consciousness appear to be paying dividends. Domino's preliminary results for 2007 showed sales up by 23%, while pre-tax profits jumped by 33%. Like-for-like sales also returned an impressive increase, rising 15%.

Sales and marketing are closely linked at Domino's. The marketing budget is set at 5% of net sales - a total of £18m this year, up £4m because of the strong 2007 performance. TV ads are aired only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, and go out at the optimum time when people are weighing up whether they can be bothered to cook. According to Auld, pizza is an impulse buy; on average, consumers decide to have a pizza about an hour before they order, so being top of mind at these times is key.

Because of this targeted approach, an ad usually has a direct effect on sales, and franchisees - who, Auld reveals, all have his mobile phone number, with at least one calling every day - brace themselves for a rush when this happens.

They could experience the mother of all rushes later this month, when Domino's steps into the prime-time spotlight with its sponsorship of ITV1's Britain's Got Talent. 'It's the first time that we've done something on this scale,' says Auld. 'Traditionally we advertised on Channel 4 and Sky, but this is prime-time ITV, so much bigger audiences for us. And it's Saturday night - our heartland in terms of pizza-eating occasions.'

Domino's is an old hand at broadcast sponsorship, having one of the UK's longest-running deals backing Sky One's showings of The Simpsons. At one point it appeared that Ofcom's ban on TV advertising to children of foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) would scupper the tie-up, as the cartoon is classed as children's programming and most of Domino's pizzas are classified as HFSS.

However, the company has switched to brand advertising focusing on its online ordering and delivery services, which is allowed under the rules. Is this exploiting a loophole, as some have claimed? Auld says not. 'We want to operate in the spirit of the agreement. If we wanted to bend the rules, we'd show the pizzas that are not HFSS,' he argues.

Pioneering work in digital ordering in the late 90s has also contributed to Domino's success. At peak times, its website can rake in sales of up to £70,000 a hour, with one in six orders now placed online. The company has also plunged into experimenting with new ways of getting pizzas to consumers - dizzyingly, there were 15 digital projects in progress at any one time during 2007.

Domino's was one of many forward-thinking brands that made a beeline for Second Life, but since the virtual world's early promise has dimmed, Auld has turned to social networking sites instead to explore the opportunities they offer. Even so, the paper menu still serves as a marketing tool - one currently being used to communicate the quality of the ingredients, which Auld claims sets Domino's apart from cheaper independent rivals.

The previous incumbent in Auld's job was the colourful Chris Moore, now Domino's chief executive, but Auld does not fancy following in his footsteps, seeing himself as a career marketer. 'This is a terrible thing to say, but whenever we have board presentations I feel a bit sorry for everyone else,' he says. 'Marketing is the fun area of the business. I'd struggle to see myself doing anything else.'

Career history
  • 1995-1996 Product manager, Whitworths
  • 1996-2000 Senior brand manager, Carlsberg-Tetley
  • 2000-2003 Senior consultant, Headlight Vision
  • 2004-present Brand controller, rising to sales and marketing director, Domino's Pizza