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Consumer research on a limb: Domino’s Pizza launches ‘Instant Reviews’ program in Times Square

Being a Long Islander means never having to say, as many of my expatriate friends do, “I can’t find any decent pizza around here.”  I’m no pizza snob, but I’m always amazed that anyone in the New York City area actually orders Domino’s.

So what do you do when you’re America’s largest pizza chain and your food gets bad reviews from legions of consumers?

Domino’s decision to build a pr marketing platform out of self-improvement, obviously a decision driven by compelling consumer research, is frankly a daring strategy.  The company’s public reinvention campaign kicked off at the end of 2009 with Pizza Turnaround, which saw Domino’s acknowledging its bad reviews and setting about changing its recipe with advertising, social marketing and other tactics.

Beginning this week, Domino’s is using a giant digital billboard in Times Square to allow any customer who orders food using the Domino’s Pizza Tracker app the opportunity to share their feedback with hundreds of thousands of eyeballs at the crossroads of the world, and pretty much everyone else via a web video feed.

Barring profanity and irrelevant rants, no comments will be excluded, no matter how negative.  As a senior Domino’s marketing officer says, the out-front strategy means that Domino’s has “blown up the bridge” – there’s no turning back.

Writing in Fast Company, Chikodi Chima picks up the story:

“We’ve had this tracker for about three years, but we felt it was time for a coming out party,” says Domino’s chief marketing officer Russell Weiner. Created by Domino’s agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the Domino’s Tracker allows customers who submit their orders online (over 40% now do) to track their food from the oven to their front door, and will even give them the names of the cook and delivery driver. Once the order is received, customers can rate their experience and can leave comments for restaurant staff.

“We were a pizza company, and our pizza needed to be better,” says Weiner. “That’s a tough thing to address.” Subsequent iterations included “Show Us Your Pizza,” wherein Domino’s asked customers to upload photos of actual pizzas to ShowUsYourPizza.com, with the chance to win cash and an opportunity to have their images used in an ad campaign; the company was also eschewing fancy food photography in favor of undoctored pizza pics. More than 30,000 images of actual pizzas have been uploaded.

But this may be the riskiest gambit yet; disgruntled customers will doubtless take the opportunity to broadcast their displeasure in such a public venue, and the venue itself may in fact spur negativity. “Domino’s has confidence in what they’ve been doing,” says CP+B VP, creative group director Tony Calcao. Negative feedback Calcao, says, gives Domino’s a chance to up its game. “They have a competitive spirit, and anything that gives them a chance to get better, they’re into.”

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