If you’ve been watching TV lately, you may have noticed Domino’s new pizza ad campaign. In what is to follow, I’m going to explain to you why this is a terrible idea and how you can avoid making the same missteps with your own PR and marketing programs.
The ad begins with customers on video saying the pizza crust tastes like cardboard and the sauce is like ketchup, among other disappointments. Patrick Doyle, the president of Domino’s, comes on camera to say that the company is changing its ways and has made improvements to its pizza.
Steven Colbert lampoons Domino’s new pizza ad campaign in his “Alpha Dog of the Week” segment.
Domino’s may think it is doing the right thing by publicly apologizing for its pizza in order to promote its new line. But the company has unintentionally violated the most important rule of public relations: never restate the negative!
What’s so bad about restating the negative?
To answer this question, let’s divide Domino’s customers into three basic groups:
1) Customers who hate the pizza
2) Customers who love the pizza
3) Customers who are indifferent
By restating the negative, the company is simply reinforcing the beliefs held by group 1, the people who hate the pizza. No big change there. They’ve been validated.
But what about the people who love the pizza? The company just told them they have “poor taste” and they have been eating bad pizza for the past decade. Now they believe, “Domino’s = ketchup on cardboard.” Not a wise move.
Then you have the people who didn’t feel strongly either way. Now, thanks to this campaign, they hold the belief that if everyone else hates the pizza, then they must hate it too.
In effect, Domino’s has taken a poor reputation and firmly planted and reinforced it into the minds of ALL their customers.
Why is stating the negative a bad thing in marketing?
Psychology plays a big factor here. When disgraced U.S. President, Richard Nixon famously stated “I am not a crook,” what people really heard was, “I am a crook.” The “not” didn’t resonate in our subconscious mind. Instead the accusation became the “truth,” not the denial.
What should Nixon have said? Anything that accentuated his positive qualities, “I am a man of ethics.”
The other psychological principle is social proof. When people have no opinion on an issue, they will look to the behavior of others to tell them how to think or act. So if the majority opinion is “Domino’s pizza is ketchup on cardboard” AND the company (the authority figure in this case) is saying it, then it MUST be true.
As Colbert correctly points out in his segment, Domino’s unwittingly invites another interpretation of its apology campaign; that all previous marketing claims of pizza quality were lies. But you should forgive their lies of the past and trust them now, right?
What should Domino’s have done to address these negative customer reviews?
The solution here is simple. Issue the newer, better pizza without first trashing the Dominos brand!
Domino’s is not the only company who has tried the “apology campaign.” A few years back, Ford had a marketing slogan, “If you haven’t looked at Ford lately, look again.” For us, that translates to: “We are famous for our lousy cars.”
In contrast, Toyota’s marketing continues to point to the reliability of its automobiles by declaring, “80% of all Toyotas sold in the last 20 years are still on the road.” The company often shows old, high mileage Toyotas and their happy owners in its new car commercials.
If reliability is the most important factor to you in the purchase of a new car, who are you going to choose? The company who has struggled for decades to make a reliable car or the company who has been making reliable cars for a very long time?
The next time your are looking to create a new PR and ad campaign, remember that restating the negative will simply reinforce a bad view of your brand in your customers’ minds. Instead, accentuate the positive!