The Domino’s Effect

Domino’s brand cultivated over 49 years…damaged in 30 minutes or less.

The latest viral video on the Web today isn’t related to an upcoming summer blockbuster, nor the next Chocolate Rain sensation or even the next Obama Girl. Today’s social video frenzy is a real time case study of what happens when the employees of a franchise use online video to inadvertently cause a global domino effect that financially and emotionally impacts other franchises, employees, customers as well as bruising the corporate brand overall.

Two employees from an individually owned Domino’s store shot and shared a few devastating videos that will appall anyone and everyone who can actually stomach them. Warning: If you like fast food or every question what happens behind the scenes, don’t watch these videos.

While those individuals claim that the antics were intended to be a prank and that no food was ever sent to customers, the mere prospect of something like this being potentially plausible was enough to inject doubt into the minds of paying consumers. The content was removed by YouTube, but spending a few minutes on Google or Yahoo Search will unearth a bevy of remixes and collages.

GoodAsYou
ran the original videos and in turn, also corresponded with Domino’s corporate offices.

Tim McIntyre, Vice President, Communications led the effort to kill the videos wherever possible while investigating the clues that would identify the local store and the offending employees.

Email 1:

Thank you for bringing these to our attention. I don’t have the words to say how repulsed I am by this – other than to say that these two individuals do not represent that 125,000 people in 60 countries who work hard every day to make good food and provide great customer service. I’ve turned this over to our security department. We will find them. There are far too many clues that will allow us to determine their location quite easily.

Regards,

Tim McIntyre
Vice President, Communications
Domino’s Pizza, LLC

Email 2:

We just got off the phone with the franchise owner, who was absolutely dumbfounded by this. He has told us that he will be terminating their employment effective immediately. We suggested that he call them and get a written statement from them, asking them to “explain” (to the extent anyone can, really) their actions. We are also seeking legal counsel to see what kind of action we can take against them for damage to the brand.

You are welcome to use anything I’ve sent to you in the past 24 hours. I do want to thank you for bringing this to our attention…I just wish it hadn’t been posted so prominently on your web site…while it was certainly fair game, it does hurt the company and the thousands of people we employ in this country whether it’s intended or not.

Regards,

Tim

Tim McIntyre
Vice President, Communications
Domino’s Pizza, LLC

Domino’s will surely suffer significant financial losses as a result of these “fake” videos and the tidal wave of public disgust that will surely crash over social networks. Sales will thin similar to the cascading effect that we witnessed during the unfortunate Wendy’s chili fiasco.

Domino’s is on the right track. By removing the first wave of videos, the company bought itself time to regroup, research, and plan its next moves. As we all know however, the Social Web is a ripe and fertile playground for those seeking and sharing timely and material content, so the video and outlying conversations will escalate before they dissipate. Listening, responding, and reassuring the public that this is an isolated event, using a combination of traditional and social mediums are instrumental in steering perception, slowing the bleeding, assessing damage, and ultimately creating and implementing a sweeping campaign to instill trust in the Domino’s brand once again. This must be done at the local and national levels as each franchise is supported by its own locale and geographic community.

Amplifying the voices and the faces of trustworthy employees, customers, and managers can help us convey a believable and sympathetic persona that offers something or someone to connect to for those open to the other side of the story.

Ultimately, this will run it’s course. Steering it and limiting the monetary and brand damages is paramount now and in the days and weeks to come. In the end, Domino’s has a price to pay for these actions as its employees, whether or not they’re trained, managed, or guided, are the ambassadors for the company brand with or without customers present.

Please also read: “Reinventing Crisis Communication for the Social Web.”

UPDATE:

The official Domino’s response:

Update to our Valued Customers

In the last 24 hours, videos of two of Domino’s Pizza employees appearing inappropriately within one of our franchise restaurants have been circulating online.

Since the videos first surfaced yesterday, the two workers have been identified, fired and the affected franchisee has filed a criminal complaint against them, and there are warrants for their arrest.

The opportunities and freedom of the internet is wonderful. But it also comes with the risk of anyone with a camera and an internet link to cause a lot of damage, as in this case, where a couple of individuals suddenly overshadow the hard work performed by the 125,000 men and women working for Domino’s across the nation and in 60 countries around the world.

We apologize for the actions of these individuals, and thank you for your continued support of Domino’s Pizza.

UPDATE 2:
Domino’s is now on Twitter (@dpzinfo) responding to questions regarding The Domino’s Effect

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  • @MattWilsonTV

    Wow, dominos is in for it.

    How do you overcome this?! This is just one of those freak things, that you’ll have to deal with.

  • Mauricio Guimaraes

    Brian,
    Did Domino’s Pizza take any public action to give customers a proper response?
    I’ve just visited its website and I didn’t find anything about it.
    Which action would it be more effective for this situation?
    Mauricio

  • Anonymous

    They were fired and criminal complaints were filed.

    More will come from Domino’s soon I am guessing. Their corporate info site is: http://www.dominosbiz.com

  • Adam Singer

    Great job summarizing this Brian. Except you buried the lead – the last sentence should be the first, it’s absolutely fantastic.

  • Brian Solis

    Thanks Matt, they demonstrated sincere actions to address the issue almost immediately. Readers of consumerist actually helped track down the exact store…crowdsourcing the investigation.

    Mauricio, I haven’t seen anything formal, but they have addressed the issue directly in each disparate hot spot.

    Thanks Anonymous…

    Adam, good call, that was actually supposed to be the lead! Moved.

  • valerian253

    It seems like one thing that might help is to MANDATE each franchise set up surveillance equipment in every store. Sure it’s an expense, but the trust regained would undoubtedly be worth it. @valerian253

  • Brian Solis

    Valerian, not a bad idea!

  • Iron Bowl

    I guess Dominos now have to not only use their regular PR on regular media to mitigate this, but if they have a pro-domino social media community, be it their employees or what not, they can stand a better chance to clear their image.

    A video like this on youtube. I bet it gets a lot of hits before going down.

  • Jack Humphrey

    Unbelievable in a sadly believable way. My disgust for the “human condition” just got a lot more fodder. There are at least 50 species of mammals that are superior to humans of this caliber.

  • Scott Monty

    While I think some punitive action needed to be taken against the employees, as a communicator, my fear is that this phrase on the Domino’s site is a little too extreme: “the two workers have been identified, fired and the affected franchisee has filed a criminal complaint against them, and there are warrants for their arrest.”What I might have counseled is that Tim create a very heartfelt and human response via video and post it on YouTube – so it can be seen in the same medium as the original offense. Cross-posting it on the company web site wouldn’t hurt either. But something simple and apologetic in nature, demonstrating that there’s a real person behind the emails and corporate statements would be beneficial.

    A second step to show the contrition of the company would be to have some sort of free offer and open house – beginning with the store in question – to demonstrate the level of customer dedication and cleanliness that’s part of the Domino’s culture. Depending on how quickly this firestorm spreads, it may be something they need to do at every location. Maybe free pizza for a day?

    The trouble with this situation is that it’s the one thing everyone fears when you eat out, and even if it happens to you, it’s hard to detect. Even the slightest whiff of suspicion colors the public perception of the brand, and it’s going to be very difficult to regain that trust in the short term.

  • Brian Solis

    Iron Bowl, a simple, human response would help humanize the story to garner empathy. What do you think?

  • Brian Solis

    Jack, indeed.

    Scott, great to hear from you. I agree, absolutely. You can sense the passion in the response, but what we could all benefit from is a bit of humility and sincerity in order to beget forgiveness. You’re right on…that statement, while warranted, needs balance to tug at the heart strings.

  • Chris Michaels

    Hey Brian. Interesting take on their response, however, I’d love to know your thoughts on what Domino’s did wrong? It seems to me that they’ve been way too far behind in the response to much of the online momentum, because they never got ahead of it with any formalized statements. Tim has done a great job trying to snuff out the smaller fires as this has definitely gone viral, but what about the public concern that this was in their backyard. Even on the consumerist piece, there seemed to be some hesitation to believe that this was a hoax, thus the real threat..that is, the threat to public health. Regardless if this was a hoax, the mere risk of receiving contaminated foods is reason to bring this to public attention. The sponge incident or mucus transfers are easy ways to pass on Hepatitis, Escherichia coli, Staphilococcus and other infections that are carried by bodily fluids.

    My concern is that there wasn’t any notification for people nationwide who may have seen the videos, that this was an isolated event, or even where it happened, so that someone from San Antonio, TX to Seattle, WA did not have to worry about their orders. It seems to me that had Domino’s promptly come out with a statement that this had occurred, that they had tracked down the store and terminated the employees, and that there was a plan of action for assisting patrons that may have been affected during this timeframe, there would have been far less public outcry or loss of faith in the company. The last thing either anyone would want to see is another Jack-in-the-Box (1993), or Taco Bell (2007) incident, or the general fear that people anywhere may have contracted something that was passed on from contaminated foods.

    Your thoughts?

  • daniel&doris

    Yes I agree with Chris that Dominos could have considered posting information on their business website about what they’ve framed as a hoax, maybe inform the media, and also send out circulars to all their chains so that patrons there could be aware as well. But on hindsight, it’s easy to suggest many of these activities. However, one of my concerns is that it’s incidents such as these that will set back any progress by organizations at large towards embracing social media, and getting their employees widely involved. Nothing is more important than the individual employee in each organization as the de-facto brand ambassador, and for the two franchise staffers to do this via Youtube will hurt any effort to convince the more conservative managements that social media needs to be embraced.

  • Brian Solis

    Hi Chris, Daniel, they went public when they had the information they needed to present a complete (with closure) story, but focused on the individuals flashpoints where the conversations were transpiring – as a way of containing them. They have to (not sure if they did this) assess the local threat before escalating it nationwide. There’s always the risk that their response could do more damage on a grander scale than the disgusting acts of two local rogue employees. I do believe there is opportunity to also act at the local level in addition to national through traditional and new media…it’s a matter of amplifying the good people, ethics, and principles to demonstrate competence and instill trust. However, this is going to hurt a bit, as it should. I’ve included a few recommendations above.

  • Casey

    Anyone else remember the Johnson & JOhnson Tylenol Scare in the early 1980′s? Their PR team was early adopters of the transparency from brands now required by social media and the web in general. I wonder, though, how the PR situation would have changed – or continued – if a similar thing happened in 2009.

  • Rachel Kay

    What I like about this post is that it doesn’t suggest that Dominos actually fan the fire by launching an all out, sound the alarm, stop the press social media-driven freak out by Dominos that ensures that any consumers who may not have heard about the fiasco are certain to join the state of panic. Do I think they need to do more to make us feel good about their restaurants and employees? Absolutely. Do I think they need to issue a personal apology to each and every person who tweeted about it yesterday? No. In this day it’s important for people to remember that it is just as important for crisis communication to be strategic as it does aggressive and timely, which doesn’t always mean turning on the floodgates the second something happens.

  • richpulvino

    Great post Brian!

    Definitely an eye-opener for companies who feel that the employees are simply, “behind the scenes.”

    Employees are the most important public for a company, especially if they realize that every employee for a company can also act as a spokesperson for that company as well.

    The response from Domino’s has been appropriate and I’m hoping it will be effective.

  • southplatte

    The funny part of all of this is, people are people. Two dumb asses can ruin a brand? Really? Are we that shallow that two, what appear to be young, immature idiots with a video camera can completely ruin a brand, trust and everything associated with it?

    It is not as if the corporation did some dumb move, infringed on someones liberties. People should see it for what it is – two dumb asses with out any work ethic what so ever. The local franchise is who hired these two nimwits, not corporate – it comes down to the local owner, the local management and the two morons without any work ethic what-so-ever.

    Yet, we relate that Domino’s brand is ruined now? People surely will start with the entire lawsuit frenzy with claims of tainted food, of which 99.9% will be false, with people just trying to make a buck. That’s what will be sad – the media attention to those suits will do far more damage than these two did.

    I guess what I am saying is this, if two dumb ass late teen early twenty-somethings can ruin a brand with a 2 minute immature escapade – was the brand that strong to begin with?

    I don’t think Dominos should have anything but sympathy and empathy on the part of their customers as they are yet another victim of employee stupidity – you know all the “reality” shows that constantly display people being dumb asses – wonder where these two got the idea from.

    People will say these two never should have been hired. We’ve all had our stupid moments, and they usually don’t show up on a Domino’s job application.

  • Adam Singer

    Add one more update to this Brian, something else happened that I don’t think anyone else noticed.

    Go ahead and Google Dominos Pizza. Notice anything? Shows you the importance of owning page 1 of Google for your brand. They clearly do not, thus one negative incident is going to be tough to clean up in that regard.

  • Brian Solis

    Adam, thanks for the comment…I searched and Domino’s took the top spot again, but it’s fluctuating.

    In general, many social media “experts” are calling this an opportunity for domino’s to socialize their participation as if it would have prevented the negative response. I think it’s clear that using traditional listening and observing and responding, they did a good job out of the gate without a formal social media program. There’s a balance between online and real world activity that is unique to each instance.

  • Neena Biswal

    “Our social tools remove older obstacles to public expression, and thus remove the bottlenecks that characterized mass media. The result is the mass amateurization of efforts previously reserved for media professionals”…I love these lines..by Shirky….which is so true on Domino’s case..

    Well,everybody is at the media outlet,so its not a big deal when brands like Domino’s gets such a reputation shock like this..it’s is the age of social media. And I am sure there are many amazing stuff coming up..just wait and watch!!

  • Paul Philp

    The art of reputation management is becoming trickier. Companies are going to have to institutionalize these processes soon. Social media is not slowing down.

    What impact will this have on their brand this year? I posted a few thoughts – http://consumerist.com/

  • Maria Reyes-McDavis

    Domino’s response is amazing to me, not in a good way. Just more proof that is really does matter when and how a company participates in social media. Thanks for summing this all up :-)

    Maria Reyes-McDavis
    Social Marketing with Impact

  • Linn

    Kristy and Michael got “Yooced”… or is there another term for it?!

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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