Brand boost: Interacting through the Internet

 
Feb. 21, 2007
Hotties, Harleys, hot-rods and high-def TVs.
 
That's not a prop list for a music video. It's an abridged catalog of some of the combined enticements trotted out by Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza in the pair's most recent — and arguably most technologically advanced — marketing campaigns.
 
Through the cross-utilization of television, the Internet and cell phones, both companies put on unprecedented first quarter blitzes to, in the words of their spokespersons, get core customers to interact with each brand.
 
In hopes they'll buy more pizza, right?
 
Not exactly ... or immediately, anyway. It seems big pizza marketers just want to have fun first with their customers. By their own reckoning, if Pizza Hut and Domino's can get customers to play now with interactive multimedia-centered contests, they'll pay later for products.
 
For example, to promote its recent $9.99 Anything Goes pizza special, Domino's created a Web site where users could obtain clues to search for $9.99 specials on eBay. The cyber-treasure hunt, which ended Feb. 5, accounted for $250,000 worth of $9.99 prizes including a Saab convertible, a Lotus Elise and Harley Davidson motorcycle, as well as computers, a high-def TV and pizza.
 
Pizza Hut's "Cheesy Hunt" promotion is nearing the end of a seven-week run in which clues are hidden in its Cheesy Bites TV commercials. Viewers not distracted by the campaign's libidinous pitchwoman, Jessica Simpson, find the clues and then text-message them to the company via cell phones. Once received, the "texter" is eligible for multiple prizes ranging from $30,000 cash, an entertainment center, music downloads and pizza.
 
Jim Hughes, managing director and founder of The Brand Establishment in Irvine, Calif., said such interactive promotions are powerful because they build awareness by developing a bond between users and those brands — without discounting products.
 
"It's an enormous buyer reinforcement tool," said Hughes, who helps companies and their advertising agencies develop brand positions. Interactivity with prospects that simply gets them familiar with the brands is always good, he said. "It does not have to mean a reduction in margin on a product. ... Pizza places are the worst offenders when it comes to (discounts)."
 
Web of fun
 
While neither Pizza Hut nor Domino's divulged the cost of their multimedia initiatives, it's safe to assume those investments were significant. Still, Domino's vice president of brand marketing, Trish Drueke, said it was less expensive than an all-out national media blitz. The Internet-centered campaign allowed "us to micro-target who we needed to reach for this promotion."
 
The series of videos shot by Domino's to promote Anything Goes both on its Web site and other social networking sites, such as MySpace.com, were low-budget affairs deliberately crafted to look like the work of amateur cinematographers so common to the Internet.
 
In a January Domino's news release, chief marketing officer Ken Calwell said the "purpose of the viral videos was to engage and entertain consumers with the storylines and get them talking about the characters, the contest and most importantly, Domino's Pizza." (Viral marketing, conducted through e-mail, is when Web links and marketing messages are sent and re-sent multiple times by and to many users, allowing messages to spread like a virus.)
 
Domino's "Mackenzie Gets What Mackenzie Wants" series of videos featured a spoiled teen who received a Saab convertible for her birthday, but had a meltdown because it was red rather than blue. In another video, Mackenzie explains how her father eventually bought her the blue Saab she demanded, but how he told her to sell the red one. Final sale price: $9.99, and bought on New Year's Day at eBay.
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This is not the first time Domino's has used the Internet simply for customer fun. Last year's promotion of Fudgems, the chain's character model of its warm, chocolate brownies, led Web surfers to play games with it and make it dance. Similarly, its Brooklyn Style Pizza site also included games and optional cell phone ring tone downloads.
 
"If our customers are in these digital places, this gives them new ways to interact with our brand and allows us to be where they already are," Drueke said. "We want to be a brand people want to spend time with. So whether they're having Fudgems dance, downloading ring tones or in the treasure hunt on eBay, they're spending time with our brand. And at the end of the day, that's a success."
 
While both chains developed promotional microsites, anchored to their corporate Web sites, each also used popular Internet sites YouTube.com and MySpace.com to further their messages. Doing so, said Pizza Hut spokesman Chris Fuller, is simply going where customers are.
 
"That's why using YouTube, text (message) promotions and MySpace are so important," he said. "We know people are texting, we know people are uploading on YouTube and MySpace, and we know we can reach our customers there."
 
On MySpace,

What's Important

Big chains are demonstrating Internet promotion isn't just about sales, it's about customer fun and brand interaction.

Internet promotion takes finesse, but it's not as costly as traditional media blitzes.

The use of MySpace and YouTube are two channels through which viral marketing is easily promoted.

Pizza Hut uploaded a series of videos about the life of "Ted, America's Most-Loved Pizza Delivery Guy." In the flicks, Ted deals with an angry delivery driver from a pizza competitor, accepts the kisses of two women flirting with him to get a slice of pizza, and endures the sight of a customer who accepts his delivery in the nude.
 
Other than Ted's heavily Pizza Hut-logoed car, the videos are promotion-free. The point, Fuller said, is to have fun and engage customers with the brand.
 
Pizza Hut's newest effort, "America's Favorite Pizza Fan Contest," encourages Web users to create a video proclaiming their love for Pizza Hut, something Fuller said hundreds of customers do already through e-mailed letters. In the contest, a panel of judges will whittle entries down to three finalists before YouTube users vote for their favorite in April, when the winner becomes the Honorary VP of Pizza. The privilege includes a $25,000 "salary," a year's worth of free pizza and the use of a car for a three-month "victory tour." The contest, which begins Feb. 23, will be promoted mostly via the Internet and e-mail.
 
Hughes said similar customer relationship building using the media has been around since at least the 1950s. One promotion of  yore he recalled used television to request viewers' help in naming an airline company that didn't yet exist. Those who suggested a name were eligible to win a trip to Europe, and the company got a voluntary and free mailing list of thousands of potential customers.
 
Now with the ubiquity of the Internet, marketers have myriad opportunities to do the same and more, he said.
 
"It's a free access point for everyone," Hughes said. "The proliferation of interactive types of media is just now opening the doors to this kind of stuff. There's so much more to come."
 
What's the value?
 
While fun and games on the Internet are neat, "any promotion or plan has to be compelling to the target," Domino's Drueke said.
 
While the "Mackenzie" video series received nearly 3 million views and drove users to eBay hoping to buy her car, what's tough to measure is whether it made current Domino's customers more loyal and/or attracted others.
 
What's certain, Drueke added, is "Mackenzie" created a buzz online. The flicks earned top rankings on a number of Web sites and numerous comments on a wide range of video blogs. 
 
"We're very pleased and excited by the response it got," Drueke said. "It accomplished all the goals set out for it: to be integral to the Anything Goes deal and be compelling to our target."
 
Fuller said Pizza Hut also is pleased with the performance of "The Cheesy Hunt," though he declined to provide specifics.
 
Hughes hopes other companies will realize the power and the value of interactive Web marketing to produce similar promotions that have the power to endear customers to a brand. He said retailers too often rely on price-based promotions to draw customers in, when all that does is spike sales briefly and, in tandem, narrow margins. He called promos like Pizza Hut's and Domino's "sound, strategic moves to get more loyal customers using products at the value they want to sell them at."
 
He said such efforts help brands distinguish themselves from others via their unique selling proposition, not by low prices.
 
"Build your brand on distinction, on what's different about it, and make sure it resonates with your audience," he said.

Topics: Domino's Pizza , Marketing , Online Ordering , Pizza Hut


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