Last April, the PR and marketing folks at Domino’s Pizza were forced into overdrive when a YouTube video surfaced of a few employees doing some decidedly unhygienic things to food they were preparing. In an article on the ensuing PR crisis, New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford noted that the company’s reputation among its core consumers went from positive to negative in just a matter of days. Domino’s initiated an aggressive PR and social media strategy to address the fallout, including a video apology of sorts from its CEO and the creation of a Twitter account to address consumers’ questions about the issue. Still, the damage was done and suffice it to say that the video, and Domino’s reaction to it, became a much studied topic among PR students and practitioners alike.

But that was last April and now Domino’s has moved on to a new PR/advertising strategy; namely, admitting that its products are pretty unappetizing. In a ubiquitous TV commercial, both high ranking executives and hourly employees discuss the company’s decision to “face our critics and reinvent our pizza from the crust up.” The ad features scathing comments from consumers ranging the gamut from “Worst Excuse for Pizza I ever had,” to “Domino’s pizza crust to me is like cardboard.” It concludes with company employees reiterating that they are facing this criticism head on, launching the “Pizza Turnaround” and promising to do better. This absolute candor, while incredibly refreshing from a consumer perspective, is a bit surprising when examined through the lens of our industry.

In a Washington Post article on the campaign, industry executives suggest there are some major risks associated with issuing a mea culpa as an advertising strategy. For example, by accepting that their pizza is awful isn’t Domino’s effectively admitting that they’ve lied to consumers in previous campaigns that boasted better ingredients than their competitors? And, by publicly promising to make a much better pizza, Domino’s is holding itself accountable. If consumers aren’t swayed by the addition of new spices and improved crust, they will most certainly let the company know. And then what?
It’s definitely a gamble but I think it’s a pretty strategic one. Social media has proliferated our world to such an extent that brands can no longer pretend to be storied institutions. When met with a bad experience, consumers will take to Twitter, blogs and other viral channels to voice their thoughts and the brand’s reputation will be affected, regardless of corporate messaging. So maybe Domino’s has recognized this and is simply facing the challenge head on. Could it be that we’ll start to see more candor from big business? In my humble PR practitioner opinion, I certainly hope so!

-Contributed by Kate Finigan. Follow her @PRKateFin