Image: Domino's ad
Domino's
In the "Turnaround" campaign, Domino's admits some might find their pizza lacking and touts the new recipe.
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updated 1/29/2010 7:51:32 AM ET 2010-01-29T12:51:32

Domino's Pizza recently launched the “Pizza Turnaround,” a campaign in which it sought feedback from customers on how to improve its pizza recipe. It was a self-deprecating endeavor. The company paid to create a commercial featuring someone who says, "Domino's pizza crust to me is like cardboard.” But through admitting that its product wasn’t perfect, Domino's was promising to make it better. The campaign got lots of attention, so on the PR front, it seemed like it was relatively successful.

But posts on Domino's Facebook wall tell a different story. Here’s a sampling of many negative reviews that have been accumulating since Domino's changed its recipe (all unedited):

There’s even an opposition group on Facebook called “The New Domino's Pizza Still Sucks.” As TBM’s C-Tweet blogger Bernhard Warner pointed out earlier this month, when it comes to pizza, it’s hard to please everyone. And, to be fair, there are positive posts on the Facebook wall praising the pizza as well. Bill Smoot says: “This is the biggest change in Pizzadom in centuries! I ordered two pies for us to try, and they were both a huge hit. Way to go, Dominos.” But the majority of the wall posts about the new pizza are critical.

It seems that the most common gripe is that there’s too much garlic on the new crust. Others say that the new sauce is too spicy. What’s most unsettling for the company is that these critiques come from the people who call themselves fans of Domino's on Facebook — surely some of its most loyal customers.

Domino's doesn't seem very worried, though. Tim McIntyre, Vice President of Communications at Domino's, wrote over e-mail, "Please don’t ignore the fact that a lot of the feedback we’re getting is positive, and you can’t judge our success or failure just based on the tweets found on our web site or Facebook posts." He contends that the campaign's effectiveness will be measured in order counts and in-store sales, which won't be disclosed for a few months.

If the sales don't come through and the "Pizza Turnaround" backfires, it won't be the first such campaign to flop. Companies take a big risk when they change the fundamentals of their formulas. In 1985, Coca-Cola introduced "New Coke," inciting what the company history now refers to as "a firestorm of consumer protest." Within months, an embarrassed Coca-Cola returned to its classic soda formula. More recently, PepsiCo revamped the packaging of its Tropicana orange juice, only to almost immediately change it back to the original design after customers revolted. While an outright switch back to the cardboard pizza that Domino's has already lambasted seems unlikely, it's possible that the chain could bring some elements of the traditional variety as options on the menu if the protests persist.

Another high-profile apology is the last thing that Domino's needs. Not too long ago, its president regretfully addressed a YouTube fiasco that made a mess of the company's public image. Nearly a million people watched a video in which a Domino’s employee put gross things on pizza he was making.  While the video prompted a lot of disgusted backlash, it didn’t seem as though there were that many customers complaining that Domino's was actually putting gross things on every pizza that it delivered. Unfortunately, in response to the “Pizza Turnaround,” now that’s exactly what many customers are saying.

So Domino’s finds itself playing defense once again. To its credit, the company is very responsive to the negative feedback it’s getting on Facebook. Every few hours, there’s a post like this one: “You can ask the store to leave the crust seasoning off if you'd like, that might help.” The company’s Twitter feed is also actively apologetic. Domino’s tweeted recently, “So sorry you're pizza wasn't what you hoped for. Guarantee says 'If you're not completely satisfied...' "

Truly engaging in social media necessitates this kind of imperfect back-and-forth. It requires that companies hand over some control over their brands to their customers publicly. There are enormous benefits to doing so. Endorsement of a product by a large group of strangers, or, better yet, people whom you know, is arguably much more valuable than a one-sided advertisement. But with the advantages of social-media engagement come the downsides. For example, when a customer rants about what may be an isolated incident of lousy service on that company's Facebook wall, everyone can see it. When a bunch of people don't like a new product or policy, they can rise up against it together.

Domino’s may not have anticipated the new pizza backlash, but it should have. Customers have been using Facebook and Twitter as a customer-service forum since companies first presented themselves there. If it took Domino’s until now to realize that, maybe its pizza wasn’t so bad in the first place.

Copyright Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive

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