The Power of “We Screwed Up Marketing” to Save Your Brand and Business

by Marcus Sheridan

5 years ago, Dominos Pizza was terrible.

Their ingredients were cheap.

The pizza tasted like it had been frozen, recycled, and then left out in the sun all day.

And because of this their brand, and business, were on the brink of ruin.

Then, one day, they made a simple statement to the world, which sounded something like this:

Our food sucks. But we’ve heard your complaints, we’ve listened, and we’ve made big changes. Give us another try.”

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I can remember my thoughts as I watched that commercial on TV the first time:

“Yes, your pizza does suck…Yes, you screwed up…Wow, you’re actually admitting it…and dang, your new pizza appears pretty good…”

A few weeks later, after years of not wanting to eat the flavored cardboard that was Dominos Pizza, I gave the company a second chance. And after one simple bite, Dominos had managed to find what had once been lost—a customer.

Think about that for a second—its simplicity and power is profound. Yet my story with Dominos isn’t unique. In fact, hundreds and thousands of other pizza lovers saw this campaign from Dominos and gave the company another try.

This campaign by Dominos was named “Oh, Yes We Did” and I honestly think it will go down as one of the greatest examples of transparent and honest marketing of the last 100 years—causing the company’s stock prices to soar as competitors like Pizza Hut and Papa Johns have been left scratching their heads, wondering how they’ve lost so much market share so quickly.

And if we break it down in simple terms, Dominos established what I feel is a masterful guide to what I call “We Screwed Up Marketing”—an essential component of embracing The Honest Economy. The steps go like this:

1. Actually listen to customer feedback.

2. If your product or service stinks (based on said feedback), admit it to yourself.

3. Once you’ve admitted it to yourself, admit it to your customers—tell them you screwed up.

4. Now tell your customers exactly what you’re going to do to “make it right.”

Pretty simple, isn’t it?

Yes, it is, but most companies will never go down this road of transparency, honesty, and humility.

There are many industries(cough…auto…cough) that could learn from the Dominos turnaround. Heck, even a few in Washington would benefit from a dose of “We Screwed Up Marketing.”

But, most likely, those brands and businesses (big and small) that are failing will continue to deny what is plain and evident to the rest of man-kind, missing an incredible opportunity at redemption in a world always thirsting for another great comeback story.

Your Turn

Can you remember your reaction to the Dominos commercials? Did you give them another try? Are there other brands you’ve seen do this well? And what brands do you think could learn the most from Dominos’ approach?

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

JA October 25, 2013 at

Marcus – so insightful and so powerful for us in small and medium sized business!

It’s SO hard as a small business sometimes to get the “real” reason they left/are upset/buy somewhere else, etc…
Here is how I’ve earned the right to “hear my customers” well…

After going through the “I screwed up” honest apology, I then ask if the customer can:

“educate me on ways I could have improved for them.”

Phrasing it this way tends to let the customer feel safe and allow them to voice complaints without the discomfort of it feeling too personal.

When I do this well, I get to the core of the issue.
And it gives me a chance to be a very authentic and humble person to a customer who is frustrated.

Then I can address their issue, see if we can fix it and have a chance at winning back a raving fan.

Thank you for your sharing and your thoughts!
I love your perspective!!

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2013 at

JA, you seem like a heck of a person.. Really, these were great thoughts and I give you serious props.

Continued success!!

Marcus

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Rob Skidmore October 25, 2013 at

Ha! I ate Domino’s last night. Great thoughts Marcus. This was a perfectly timed post for me.

I just started working with a startup that makes kids furniture. It is a really neat product. You can check it out at sprout-kids.com. It’s made from recycled wood coated in a easy to clean surface. Since we are a new company that is not yet profitable we are limited in what we can do because we don’t have the funds. (We have been bootstrapping and have not taken outside money.)

Because of this the founder, who is also the guy who makes the furniture, decided to leave the edges of our furniture unfinished. This means that the coated surfaces are incredibly easy to clean but the edges are nearly impossible.

This morning I showed up to find that someone had left a comment on our Facebook page complaining about this issue. I feel that I need to respond but I had been unsure how to. Now I think I do. I don’t feel like we have screwed up. But the unfinished edges are definitely one of our biggest weaknesses.

I love your Honest Economy concept and I think Domino’s is doing it right. If you own your mistakes the right way they turn into strengths. If companies find their weaknesses and humbly admit to them then “weak things will become strong unto them.”

Thanks for your thoughts Marcus

You are an inspiration.

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2013 at

Rob, I always love your enthusiasm man, I really do. And glad the article here helped a bit.

Good luck w the startup, that’s always exciting…and challenging!!

Best,

Marcus

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Ryan Biddulph October 25, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

I forget the commercial but do remember the change in quality, flavor, etc. What a unique concept, eh? ;) Admit your mistake and then correct it.

I know why few businesses do this. Reminds me of the line from the 2nd “new” star wars movie. “Double the pride, twice the fall.” Count D reference, who knew? Anyway, this idea is why many companies crash and burn, or simply are average, or flail for a bit, then die out.

Few want to admit they are messing up. Ego thing. Even fewer listen to feedback and even fewer act on it.

Now as always, exceptions exist. Some of the greatest inventions in history were scoffed at by everybody. You better make sure you are really breaking a paradigm through before you tune out most people because even in these cases, these future monstrous enterprises, or genius inventors, needed some feedback before growing.

Nobody can do it by themselves because customers are the people who put money in your pocket. Better listen to them, and closely, if you really want to succeed with your venture.

They will gladly point out your blind spots to you.

Thanks for sharing Marcus.

Ryan

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2013 at

I love your points here Ryan, but I think the most salient is “Nobody can do it by themselves…”

The ones that can figure out how to truly leverage that statement are the ones that will do the most amazing things.

Really appreciate you dropping by man,

Marcus

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Steve Freeman October 25, 2013 at

Marcus,

I can only think of those companies who ignored their customers, Kodak being one of them. It’s also very hard for the culture of a company to admit they don’t get it, think GM before 2008 – “We build them, you WILL buy them”!

Thanks for the post, it’s a good reminder that as small business owners, once we see the mistake, hopefully, we’ll have the courage to admit it and change it!

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2013 at

A couple of really good examples there Steve. A few books could be written on the fall that has been Kodak.

Hope your coming week is a great one,

Marcus

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John Gibb October 25, 2013 at

hey Marcus

You good?

I love transparent marketing. Because not many are doing it. Hurray, that’s less competition for us. :)

I believe all brands should learn from Domino’s Pizza, regardless the industry or the target audience they’re serving.

When you admit your flaws, you grow both as a person and brand. Just listen to customers and address their basic needs better than anyone else.

Cheers!

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2013 at

John, good hearing from you bud.

And you’re right—there isn’t a lot of competition with this, at all. So it just means that ones that are actually willing to keep it “real,” will get the greatest results.

Thanks for stopping by my man.

Marcus

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Iain October 26, 2013 at

That’s an awesome example of transparency.

I think that is some that governments should definitely work on more. They try to do it, but it doesn’t always work that way.

I live in Canada so I don’t ever remember seeing that commercial. Great example though

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2013 at

Yeah, I don’t know if y’alls government is like our Iain, but when it comes to any transparency at all from either side of the aisle, it’s a train wreck.

Stay well brother,

Marcus

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Iain October 28, 2013 at

They try to be transparent but it never really comes across that way.

Have a great one man

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Jeremy Abel October 26, 2013 at

Hi Marcus,

Yes, I clearly remember that commercial when it was launched and just thinking, “whoa, that’s so inbound.” Not only was Donino’s being honest with themselves, bit they were being honest with consumers. Moreover theses guys were authentically showing that big change was coming, and this change was influenced by what they heard their customers saying.

Truth be told, their pizza was always pretty mediocre (IMHO) so that change was a long time coming; had they listened to customers earlier on they might’ve been able to save some list sales. That’s the morale of this story though as every business has customers who are giving feedback, but not all businesses do anything with that info.

Who else could benefit from this? I’d say Apple. For years they had been innovating and then that came to a halt after the iPad 3. They haven’t done anything bad, technically, but the high level of innovations we’ve come to expect from this giant has seemingly fallen short of our expectations this past year.

As always, wonderful topic for discussion and thanks so much for sharing Marcus!

Jeremy

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2013 at

Jeremy, I always love reading your thoughts man. Apple is an interesting example. I’m wondering if they are just storing a whole bunch of stuff up or if they’ve essentially dried up at this point.

Tough to say.

Either way, hope your weekend was a great one my man and thanks for all,

Marcus

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Mike Kawula October 26, 2013 at

Definitely remember that, though still to this day haven’t retried, still sticking with supporting the local SMB’s.

A most recent apology (believe they’ve done it other times over last few decades) JC Penny during the summer…will have to see if it works.

You’ve seen Rock Bands do this also, some successfully some not but still huge brands. Outside of the Auto Industry & all of Washington I’d say almost every brand in the Airline Industry could learn from them.

Hope you’re having an awesome weekend with the family ~ Mike

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2013 at

Some great examples Mike, indeed. Ahh, the airlines, that’s a whole other story to discuss ;-)

Keep up the great work bud,

Marcus

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Jeevan Jacob John October 26, 2013 at

I am not a fan of Pizza, but when I want to eat Pizza, I (almost always) go to some place like Pizza hut or Papa Johns.

I do remember seeing the ads on TV – about Dominos reinventing everything. Back then, I wasn’t a marketer (plus, I had no interest in Dominos). So, I didn’t pay much attention. But, now I understand the value of what they did.

It was an excellent move, taking responsibility, listening to customers and reinventing their franchise based on customer output. It’s very important that we listen to what our customers has to say.

Thanks for reminding that, Marcus :) Hope you are having an enjoyable weekend.

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Marcus Sheridan October 27, 2013 at

Yep, listening makes all the difference Jeevan, that’s certainly the case.

Appreciate you stopping by and hope you had a great weekend as well.

Best!

marcus

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Ajith Edassery October 27, 2013 at

It’s really very hard to turnaround things in the food industry once the fan base is lost – especially due to poor food, the main product that is. Kudos Dominos for flipping it around for good. And totally agree with the honest marketing aspect – it’s a bit of American style, I think.

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James Seo October 29, 2013 at

Great turnaround. Although I still don’t care for their pizza, I applaud what they did here by turning those negative comments into something productive for the brand. Totally reinforces the idea that transparency is key to maintaining excellent customer & public relations.

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