Cross-Media Case Study: Chain Reaction

Pizza gets personal in video blogs that connect with consumers in a satisfying way

Mmm, pizza. Fragrant tomato sauce. A thin, crisp crust, slightly charred on the bottom, topped with melted mozzarella and crumbles of savory Italian sausage. The first hot, spicy bite - oh, excuse me. Is this making you hungry?

Okay, now you want delivery. Chances are you're going to call Domino's. Last year, trade publication Pizza Today ranked the Michigan-based chain No. 2 in the country, with sales of $5 million. You could even call it No. 1 after you realize that the leader, Pizza Hut, serves sit-down customers and doesn't do delivery the Domino's way: the fervent, focused, under-30-minutes-or-it's-free kind. Domino's also has a wide margin over the next contender on Pizza Today's list, Papa John's, which grossed $1.9 million in sales. But Domino's can't rest. It's got to keep marketing.

"Technically, Domino's is in competition with anyone that sells food," says Jeremy White, editor-in-chief of Pizza Today.

Plus, a significant portion of the chain's market has evolved from college kids trapped on campus with a phone book and a few bucks to college kids with broadband and a huge media appetite. (But they still want pizza for a few bucks.)

In response, the chain has evolved. White points to the launch of "Get the door. It's Domino's" in 2001 and the deal to become the official pizza of NASCAR in 2003 as good examples. The company was also a featured sponsor on "The Apprentice" in 2005.

"There's no doubt Domino's is one of the industry's advertising leaders," White says. Till now, though, it hadn't done much in the way of multimedia, something it wanted to remedy.

"We need to really sharpen our focus on our key target," says Ken Calwell, Domino's chief marketing officer. "We've done a lot of work over the last year and a half, digging deeper into who our target is. We designed [our research] to get after the media habits of these individuals."

The company's "Anything Goes" campaign launched in January, a multimedia offering that included gaming, viral video, a microsite, and a scavenger hunt on eBay.

Piece of the Pie

The campaign's goal was to spread the word about Domino's new price promotion: any large pie, any crust and toppings, for $9.99. Branded daily puzzles on the microsite from Jan. 1 to Feb. 5 led users to eBay to search for a daily prize - anything from a year's worth of pizza to an iPod Shuffle to a 2007 Saab convertible. The first one to find the prize could buy it for $9.99.

Before the launch, the campaign snuck an array of unbranded viral videos on YouTube and AOL UnCut. Each series featured an outsized personality who wants to get rid of something valuable. Eventually, the person decides to sell it for $9.99 on eBay. Later videos pointed viewers to, where Domino's revealed itself.

The idea was to put a smile on consumers' faces on behalf of the brand while providing real value, says David Rosenberg, director of emerging media and optimization at jwt New York, the agency behind the campaign. The viral element and the tie-in with eBay were a nod to Domino's tech-savvy target, he says.

"We could eventually reveal the fact that this was Domino's," Rosenberg says. "It reinforces that $9.99 value."

The most popular video series launched with "My Sister Freaks Out," starring a rich young woman named MacKenzie. Her brother videotapes her reaction as she discovers her father purchased a new Saab for her birthday, but it's the wrong color.

After the video hit the Internet, MacKenzie started vlogging, á la lonelygirl15, and eventually announces that her dad has given her a second Saab, this one the right color. She'll sell the unwanted one on eBay on Jan. 1 for $9.99.

Some of the MacKenzie videos attracted upward of 70,000 views. Commenters found her hilarious and outrageous. A few called her out as a fake; others debated whether that mattered.

Domino's posted the URL for the promotion at the end of MacKenzie's fourth video; the brand name didn't come up at all until the fifth and final video.

Playing that game with consumers is tricky, as Domino's and many other marketers have learned (far more devious campaigns from Wal-Mart and Sony come to mind). The commenting function on the final MacKenzie video on YouTube had been turned off by mid-January, suggesting that some viewers did not like learning that the videos were a marketing tool. Yet the videos continued to rack up views even after the prizes were gone.

Domino's Calwell says the company took a risk with the viral campaign and generated strong online buzz. He says savvy consumers are willing to cut innovative brands some slack.

"They give you a lot of credit for participating in media that they care about," Calwell says. "What we're trying to do is be in the kind of media relevant to that consumer base. It's a real tightrope that you're walking."

10-Buck Saab Snapped Up

As for the eBay hunt itself, a woman nabbed the first prize on Jan. 1, just a few minutes after the puzzle appeared on the microsite. She bought MacKenzie's red 2007 Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible for $9.99.

Dominos has worked with eBay before; the companies partnered up in 2003 for two promotions aimed at college students. "Anything Goes" broke new ground for Domino's by creating an online game, with eBay as host.

"Marketers are facing consumer fatigue, frankly, with ads. Games are one way to get around that," says Shar VanBoskirk, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "They get more people to pay attention to your brand for a longer period of time."

VanBoskirk was surprised that most of the prizes were unrelated to Domino's. The campaign trys to brand the $9.99 figure, but the disparate prizes don't reinforce that correlation, she says.

The game is "like watching a commercial and saying, 'Wow, that's a great commercial,' and then you have no idea what [it] was advertising," VanBoskirk says.

Old and New

Online and off, Domino's used old favorites and new tricks to get consumers to participate.

The company bought pizza- and contest-related search terms, and included the URL in TV, print, and banner ads, says Jim Zimmer, Domino's manager of national calendar marketing. Text messages and e-mail blasts alerted subscribers when to visit the microsite for new puzzles, which were posted at a different time each day.

Using mobile messaging was new for Domino's, but the company attracted some of its text subscribers with one of the oldest forms of advertising known to the pizza industry: pizza box tops. Domino's delivers about 1 million pizzas a day.

"It's a million boxes of advertising taken and handed to a consumer - on the doorstep," Calwell says. "Typically you have three, four other people joining you [for dinner]. Guess what's in the middle of the table."

Hmm. The secret ingredient in Domino's multimedia campaign.

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