Reporter's Notebook

Domino's dishes out a spoiler

 

It takes a long time to prepare a major product introduction like yesterday’s launch of Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza at Little Caesars, but one of the chain’s biggest competitors might have undercut it with one commercial before it even got the chance to roll out the new pizza.

I’m speaking of Domino’s Pizza’s latest commercial for its Handmade Pan Pizza, which debuted last week and essentially says, “We’re slowing down to make it the right way.”

The spot continues a lot of important themes from the commercials that have helped Domino’s do well the past several years, namely using a real executive or franchisee to give an inside-baseball look at how Domino’s developed or makes a product. But the move toward slower delivery — breaking with Domino’s tradition of the “30 minutes or less” delivery chain evident in the old-school ads that are referenced in this new commercial — could not draw a more stark line between it and Little Caesars.

Little Caesars’ success in recent years has come from excellent positioning as the leader among the four large pizza chains in the United States in price-value and convenience. Neither Domino’s, Pizza Hut nor Papa John’s can undercut the $5 price point and service promise of Little Caesars’ Hot-N-Ready pizza. With the Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza launch, this is another product that beats the others on price, via an $8 large compared with a $7.99 medium Handmade Pan Pizza at Domino’s, as well as convenience because it is offered as Hot-N-Ready at dinner.

Among Little Caesars’ deep-dish pizza and the pan offerings from Domino’s and Pizza Hut, the battle for who has the best quality is a subjective one in which those three chains could largely fight to a draw. The new item from Little Caesars sure looks good, and I like the other two pizzas in that group quite a bit. They all would get their incremental traffic out of those pizzas, most likely.

But the marketing campaigns for Domino’s and Little Caesars differ drastically. Little Caesars’ ad is funny, and it accentuates what Little Caesars promotes so well: food quality (nice food shots of that thick, caramelized crust) at a competitive price that above all is the most convenient pizza on a nationwide scale with the Hot-N-Ready proposition. Domino’s is going the other way: Its pan pizza will take a little longer, because the folks making it will take their time.

Who knows if they saw Little Caesars’ introduction of its deep-dish pizza coming a week after this commercial broke, but what fortuitous timing. Domino’s commercial basically implies that the other guy promising you a deep-dish pizza as a Hot-N-Ready option without calling ahead isn’t taking the time to do it right. Domino’s previous commercials to launch Handmade Pan Pizza took thinly veiled shots at Pizza Hut, implying that “most people” use frozen dough, unlike Domino’s. That was more intentional than this round of ads, but the new commercial might land a haymaker on Little Caesars as much as Domino’s did with its previous diss of Pizza Hut.

I stand impressed, once again, by the way Domino’s markets itself as this kind of a quality leader, and we’re only three years out from their complete relaunch of its core pizza and five years removed from its short-lived “You’ve Got 30 Minutes” campaign.

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Reporter's Notebook is NRN's newsroom blog, where our editors give their points of view on news happening in the restaurant business.

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