Domino's again uses technology illusion brilliantly

A custom-built pizza delivery car is the chain's latest masterly stroke at distracting from the core product.

supreme pizza
Scott Bauer, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Domino's is potentially one of the best masters of contra-marketing. That's where a company's core product/service is pretty bad, and it's widely known among customers/prospects that it's pretty bad, and marketing is charged with somehow turning around to the company's advantage. Somehow, they have done it repeatedly -- often using technology to mask the magic.

Last year, it was a truly interesting campaign to get people to pay for their pizzas using Twitter. Never mind that Domino's conceded that it didn’t work for more than 90 percent of orders. It had people ordering for the novelty of it, and thereby endorsing the purchases for all of their followers. In what was perhaps my favorite quote from any corporate spokesperson last year, the Domino's spokesperson said at the time: "We have a brand where people are no longer embarrassed to order." In effect, they turned a bad product into a campaign of "where are not nearly as bad we were."

This week, the chain has unleashed unto American streets the latest Domino's marketing move. And it's -- my apologies -- even a little bit cheesy.

Domino's corporate has built a large number of purpose-built deliver vehicles. The cars -- which Domino's has dubbed the DXP, for delivery expert -- are Chevrolet Sparks that have been reconstructed to feature a level floor and the ability to easily hold a large number of drinks and side items. Everything other than the driver's seat has been removed from the car's interior, which can hold 80 pizzas at once.

The best part? It features an oven, a fact that is loudly advertised from the side of the vehicle. Roush Enterprises was one of the manufacturing partners on the project. In a Domino's promotional video, Roush program manager Kyle Jastren put it succinctly: "I thought it was crazy. I thought there was no way a pizza company is going to build a delivery vehicle."

Y'see, therein lies the flaw in Jastren's thinking. Domino's today is no more a pizza company than Starbucks is a coffee company. Local family-owned pizzerias deliver pizzas that are far better quality and cost less than any Domino's store -- likewise, taste-tests have had Starbucks quality losing out to McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and local coffee houses, again at much lower prices.

Starbucks and Domino's are marketing companies which deliver an experience that just happens to sometimes feature coffee or pizza. Starbucks is much more on the experience side, with Domino's more on the speed and convenience side, but neither focus on the quality/price of their core product.

Let's get back to the Domino's car and marketing. Consider these lines from the original news release announcing the concept car: "The DXP comes equipped with a puddle light projecting the Domino's logo on the ground. The front fascia displays the Domino's logo, and the side panel displays the reflective graphic of the Domino's brand. Other details include hubcaps with the Domino's logo and the recognizable illuminated Domino's car topper."

A puddle light that projects the Domino's logo on the ground? Was this idea stolen from Batman's Batmobile shining the bat signal in the sky?

But my favorite is the oven. At its hottest, the Domino's oven can only get to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. A pizza should be cooked to 165 degrees, so it's already dropping 25 degrees. But it really doesn't matter -- the pizza is already cooked in the store, and the cardboard box shields much of that heat from hitting the pizza. And the regular insulated deliver bags will likely do just as good a job at retaining the pizza's temperature.

In short, the oven is marketing sleight of hand. It's intended to imply that the pizzas are cooking as the car drives, so it's truly a fresh out-of-the-oven pizza. To be fair, the oven is labeled "warming oven," but how many consumers will note the distinction?

That all said, this is an impressive effort. People may well order from Domino's to just see this funky car drive up to their house. Anyone who sees it on the street will likely take note. Indeed, the news release said "Consumers spotting DXP vehicles can share their sighting via social media using the hashtag #DXP." They can? You're generously granting that permission, Domino's? How kind of you to permit consumers to do your marketing for you. The best part? Many actually will.

In many of the same ways that Starbucks -- and, for that matter, Apple -- does, Domino's is mastering the image of cool. This isn't touting customers raving about the delicious taste of their healthy product, and there is a reason for that. But it is delivering a social-media-fueled marketing effort that make people order their product, even if they don't especially like that product. (Then there's the fact that teenagers -- especially male teenagers -- will inhale almost any pizza.)

The technology to install any kind of an oven into a car is impressive, particular an oven that opens using an RFID keyfob. And using technology and marketing to not merely hide a product's flaws but to drive sales despite them is a testament to what marketing really should be.

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