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January 18, 2010How to save a failing brand

What do you do when your brand is worthless? What do you do when people who’ve bought your product and been burned by past failures to live up to expectations hate your brand so much they won’t ever touch it again?

You go on the attack.

There’s no point launching a ‘new and improved’ campaign — nobody believes those three trite words anyway. It’s not enough to win back people who don’t trust your brand. You could change the name. But if you’re a big company, that gets expensive.

So Domino’s Pizza tried a different strategy. They attacked their own brand for being rubbish.

Their honest admission that their pizzas didn’t measure up to the standards of other takeaway franchises got people talking. It’s an act of public contrition. Then, and only then, once we’re convinced that _they_ know there’s a problem, were they able to convince us that they might be doing something about it.

Call it a relaunch, a reboot, whatever you want, the premise is that you have to admit your past failures and actively attack your own brand’s reputation in order to make progress. But is it really the best way to wipe the slate clean?

Gerald Ratner notoriously claimed his products were “crap” — and his brand reputation never recovered. Similarly the idea that drove the invention of “new” Coke was that the old Coca-Cola was inferior. It didn’t work.

Criticising your own product and admitting past failures are a last ditch measure — and I think you’d have to be pretty desperate to try them. That’s why it’s so interesting a lot of Labour party supporters in the UK are suggesting Labour adopt a “Domino’s Pizza” strategy, owning up to their failures in the past 12 years of government and admitting they’ve made mistakes. The problem is, this is the same strategy they used to get into government, rebranding their past as “old” Labour and their new policies as “new” Labour.

And that’s the biggest problem with this strategy. Assuming it works at all, as it did for Labour in 1997, it won’t work again now. If you criticise your past product as being a load of rubbish and somehow manage to convince people that you’ve changed… and then you serve up a product that’s still no good… you can’t get away with the same trick twice. You’re lucky to get away with it once.

So is it a good strategy? It’s very high risk, and can only really be combined with a very definite improvement in your product in the future. You only get one shot at it.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with the taste of Domino’s Pizza. My problem is the price. Sure, their pizzas aren’t great. But it’s the fact that they cost twice as much as a not-great pizza from the local takeaway that gets to me.

If you can’t compete on quality, compete on price. If you can’t compete on either… it’s game over. Rubbishing your own brand is a last-ditch manoeuvre. If it fails, you’ve got nothing left.

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 18th, 2010 at 1:19 am and is filed under Blog, Branding. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 comments

  1. AnotherGuy says:

    Besides Labour, what other companies have done this and succeeded? It seems like this is a last ditch effort to get things right, and an extremely risky one (like you said).

    I’ve seen the video now, and it’s actually pretty inspiring that Domino’s is taking these steps. It will be encouraging to see it work out for them. I’ll have to keep up with this.

    Thanks for sharing this story. :)

  2. AnotherGuy says:

    By the way, I tried their new pizza tonight.

    It’s amazing.

  3. al says:

    cool!

    I’ll be honest, I like my pizzas cheap, greasy, and loaded with anchovies. But mostly just cheap! Once you get into Domino’s Pizza prices I’d rather go out for a good curry…

    but maybe one day when I’m feeling hungry I will check them out.

  4. Agustín Cáceres says:

    When your brand is worthless, you need to return to basics…

    Return to your equity. What does your brand stand for?

    Return to your targeted shoppers. What do they need?

    What are the Points of Parity – Points of Differentiation with your competition?

    Face reality.

    Then, ensure you deliver the points of parity.

    And EXCEL on few Points of Differentiation.

    With luck, you can turn over your worthless brand!!!

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