How a pizza chain provides the perfect example of purpose marketing

By Jacqueline Bosselaar, 17 May 2019

Paving for Pizza is a pioneer in bringing a brand and its community closer together, and in harmonising branding and reputation management.

Imagine: you work for a municipality in the US and are responsible for road maintenance. One day you get a call from someone from a well-known pizza chain:

"Morning, we’d like to repair the bad roads in your municipality. Our pizzas often don’t survive the journey to our consumers. Yes, I know this is also one of your citizens’ biggest irritations. But you don't have the resources to solve the problem, so… would you accept our offer?"

This, on the face of it, bizarre question was put by Domino’s Pizza to staff at no less than 1,300 municipalities across the States before one finally said "yes". Bizarre because you wouldn’t exactly expect such a (free) offer from a pizza company - or indeed from any company at all.

And yet, the offer is not so strange when you consider the original mission of Domino's Pizza is to deliver the best pizza. And poor road surfaces have a rather negative effect on their product.

Campaign explodes

We’re talking here about the ‘Paving for Pizza’ campaign, which I read about last week on Adweek as part of their Elevate: Creativity event in New York.

Paving for Pizza is an initiative of Domino’s in the United States that aims to mend those annoying holes in the road, so that pizzas can arrive at their destination in perfect shape. People can nominate a street in their municipality for repair via a website.

The campaign exploded organically and Domino's decided to expand it to tackle road surfaces in the streets of all 50 states. And local authorities now readily cooperated.

What I find so special about this campaign is that it touches people in such a way that they automatically begin talking about it in large numbers. And still do. For me, it rings all the PR bells, because we’re talking about an ‘earned first’ campaign here. One designed to earn attention, where PR is anchored in the strategy and the story is made shareable. So the impact not only has a positive effect on the brand and product, but also on the company’s reputation.

Evolutionary step 

Where in my previous column I talked about purpose marketing going terribly wrong, this brave initiative of Domino's (calling up 1,300 local authority workers and never giving up!) is a perfect example of purpose marketing done right. In fact, I believe this case even goes a step further in the evolutionary process that purpose marketing is currently undergoing. Why?

It’s an initiative and not simply a campaign. Domino's shows how Paving for Pizza is not just a one-off moment designed to grab attention. It transcends the level of storytelling because the company proves that it actually does something to solve the problem. This credibility is necessary both to win the cooperation of influential and crucial partners such as local municipalities so that they become ambassadors, and for the campaign to be embraced by consumers and the media.

The initiative is brilliantly unexpected. People wonder at first why Domino’s wants to mend roads. Then arrive at the answer: namely what the company, brand and product all stand for. Domino's is thus working towards its product, brand and reputation goals all at once.

Domino's is also very honest and stays close to its identity. Yes, they’re helping solve a pressing social problem, but this initiative is primarily taken for the love of pizzas - Domino's themselves also benefit directly. The pizza chain could have fallen into the trap of pious messages about wanting to make the world a better place. But that would have jeopardized its credibility. While the approach taken arouses sympathy: people indicated that they see Domino’s as a company that ‘cares’.

Domino's made sure that a number of municipalities streets were mended before it communicated the initiative. It’s all about ‘story-showing, not telling’.

The brand in the role of government

I find the fact that Domino’s go so far as to take over a task from government interesting, but not surprising: after all, various studies have found that consumers want the business sector to use its marketing dollars to solve social problems. Purchasing has become a political statement. Research by Havas shows that 55% of consumers even think that brands have a more important role than governments in creating a better future.

And if we, as befits good marketeers, then actually listen to consumer demand, and actually solve the problems of society, how far can this idea be taken?

Far enough for companies literally to take over tasks from government. At least, in America. But I’m convinced that Dutch local, regional and national government can also prepare themselves for this new development and demand, and a new far-reaching form of collaboration.

Where reputation and branding intersect

How might that work in the Netherlands? What if Glorix kept smelly public loos clean (a pretty thankless task, but it would prove that Glorix really helps)? Or Pedigree used dog poo to run the lights in parks (so dogs can be walked safely later)? Or Amsterdam City Council used its marketing budget on a campaign to promote other cities (speaking of direct self-interest). Or Vodafone launched a cheaper subscription that requires you to call someone who’s lonely for a minimum 2 hours every month?

Paving for Pizza is purpose marketing new-style. Where reputation and branding intersect. It goes so much further than a nice insight and cute concept. Such genuine work is something I’d love to come up with for a brand. Not only does it ring all my PR bells. More than anything, as an individual, it touches my heart.