Friday, May 14, 2010

Who You Gonna Call When Your Brand Cuts the Cheese?

Posted By on 05.14.10 at 01:11 PM

dominos-pizza-slice.jpg
I've been thinking lately about how the Roman Catholic Church can alleviate its ongoing PR difficulties pertaining to its unfortunate history of shielding ordained child-molesters from secular justice. (This is just the sort of thing my mind tends to do in idle moments. I simply cannot help it; altruism radiates from my skull like photons from the sun.) And my advice to the Holy See is to engage the services of the Colorado-based ad agency Crispin Bogusky + Porter.

Because you see, Holy See, CBP is the firm that orchestrated the recent "Pizza Turnaround" campaign for Domino's Pizza. If you missed this millennial event, then you have overlooked something entirely unprecedented in the history of public relations. Corporations have been promoting "new and improved" versions of their products almost as long as branded goods have been in existence, but the Domino's makeover represents the first time that a company has comprehensively repudiated the pre-improved version as shit on a stick. Ads for the revamped product are mercilessly self-flagellating confessions that the old Domino's pie was inferior in taste and texture to the box it came in.

The whole thing is really kind of breathtaking, and the implications are absolutely mind-boggling should this daring gambit become a viral trend among marketers. Which, given that Domino's sales have increased over 14 percent since the company confessed and pledged to do better, is not outside the realm of possibility. At this rate, we might soon be seeing an outbreak of corporate one-downsmanship comparable to a particularly competitive meeting of Narcotics Anonymous.

I wish to god the humorist S.J. Perelman had lived to see this, because he more or less predicted it in a 1938 feuilleton for the New Yorker called "Tomorrow—Fairly Cloudy," which imagined the outcome of an outbreak of existential despair on Madison Avenue. Perelman's script for a radio ad reads in part:

MRS. FLETCHER: Don't mind us, Verna, we just dropped in to sneer at your towels. (unfolding a towel) My, they're so absorbent and fluffy, aren't they? You know, they're made from selected fibers culled from high-grade, flat-tailed Montana sheep subject to rigid inspection by qualified sheep inspectors.

MRS. BRADLEY (listlessly): They fall apart in two days, but we got tired of using blotters.

Anyway, in the spirit of open intellectual inquiry, I took home a large pepperoni pizza from Domino's last night (regular, not thin crust, because I wanted to locate the new baseline). And I have to say, they have indeed upped their game more than I ever would have thought possible. I wouldn't call what I tasted good pizza exactly; it was more like the improbably palatable lovechild of unnatural congress between a pizza and a fresh doughnut. Which is to say that the crust was still all wrong, but it was wrong in this weirdly airy, fluffy-puffy kind of way that was quite antithetical to the bleak, gummy substrate of the old Domino's pie. The sauce, meanwhile, was genuinely good and surprisingly piquant for a chain product, and the cheese both tasted and acted like melted cheese. The biggest flaw in the new formula is the loud garlic flavor brushed around the puffy perimeter— because who likes garlic on a doughnut? But I'm definitely going back to investigate the thin-crust version the next time I can't be bothered to cook dinner.

And all of this is quite amazing to me, because while I am known to slum pretty regularly in the franchise end of the food chain, I like to think I do have some standards, and I wouldn't normally consider patronizing Domino's anymore than I would sully my hands and brutalize my stomach with a reeking Burger King Whopper.

Which brings me back to what Crispin Bogusky + Porter can do for the Vatican. They have established themselves as masters of public self-mortification, and may be the only agency capable of constructing a mea culpa that's maxima enough to redeem the Roman Catholic brand. Of course, the admission of guilt is going to have to be backed up with genuine reform, but if Domino's can do it, why can't god's representatives on earth? Besides, Domino's founder Tom Monaghan is a staunch Catholic and philanthropist, and probably in a great position to make the relevant introductions.

So give your man Tom a call, Your Holiness. Confession is good for the soul, and good for business.

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