Brands don’t always get it right. Barilla funds scientific studies that promote misleading pasta diets. Dove’s soap turned a black woman white. Companies continue to make products “for women” by turning them pink.
The old saying that “There's no such thing as bad publicity” may be true to a certain extent, but Domino’s Pizza chose to make a positive change.
This week, America’s No. 2 chain rented a different kind of truck to fill potholes on America's roads. That's right, while the federal government allows our nation’s dangerously crumbling infrastructure to continue resulting in deadly accidents, Domino’s stepped up and performed an act of civic responsibility so simple and ingenious, it might be a turning point for advertising.
Called Paving For Pizza, the venture wasn't altruistic, of course. The 200 or so filled potholes — a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of potholes in every major American city — were spray painted with the company's logo. And the whole stunt was rooted in protecting pizzas while in transit, since Domino’s recently introduced an insurance policy that promises to replace your pie if misfortune befalls it after you leave their stores.
The point of advertising is not necessarily to sell something, though people have promised to order Domino’s if the company comes to their town to fill potholes next (DMs are open). What this stunt did was show that in an era of morally shady companies that put profit above all else, Domino's remembers who it really serves — its customers. Who are certainly judging companies based on their ethics now more than ever.
The effect this campaign could have on advertising is two-fold. The biggest win is there’s no misinterpreting the message or other problems with traditional video or print ads that try to tell a story. There are few civic projects, whoever is doing them, that will net you as much instant goodwill as making people’s commutes a little more pleasant. And that gave Domino’s something no amount of sponsored content spending can: a viral story.
Advertisers face a challenging media market that’s splintering further every day, making it more difficult and expensive to reach the audiences they want. Yet while people lament the death of journalism, turns out that when a brand wants attention there's still no better way to get it than by earning headlines.
Reddit users who remember further back than most of the internet recalled KFC also filling potholes back in 2009, while Pornhub plowed snow on demand in March 2017. Maybe Paving For Pizza means more than a few less ruined pies (and chassis), and this is really the beginning of brands experimenting with their own civic projects.
Wouldn’t that be a nice change to Kendall Jenner trying to end #BlackLivesMatter with a can of Pepsi?