Thursday, August 13, 2009

The cutting edge of marketing?

You can sense the pressure on restaurant chains to develop new and preferably inexpensive ways to market themselves, particularly their latest menu choices. The last few days brought a few results worth noting, though for decidedly different reasons. For instance, interrupting consumers’ vacations is at best a risky endeavor. Some might say foolhardy.

Yet that’s exactly what Domino’s did in a stunt to publicize its new Chocolate Lava Crunch Cake dessert. When people think about lava, what comes to mind? Volcanoes, of course. So the pizza delivery chain figured it’d blitz North America’s most famous volcano, the postcard-perfect Mt. St. Helens in Washington State, with a product giveaway.

Because there isn’t a Domino’s in the ultra-green area, the chain hired a helicopter yesterday to swoop in with 1,000 of the new desserts. The surprise delivery was aimed at the unsuspecting tourists “as they enjoyed breathtaking views of Mount St. Helens,” Domino’s announcement explained.

The statement noted that consumers were given a heads-up via Twitter and Facebook. Which, of course, all the visitors were checking as they gazed upon one of the most stunning natural sites in the United States.

Domino’s hailed the event as a huge success. But you have to wonder how a family would react as their reverie in staring at the volcano was interrupted by a 40-decibel fast-food delivery. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest the stunt was likely a surprise to the sightseers, and probably not a happy one.

Less controversial are the new marketing programs announced by California Pizza Kitchen last week to its investors. Co-CEO Rick Rosenfield explained that the chain has launched what one financial analyst characterized as a VIP card for CPK fans. The new Adventure Card entitles the bearer to a 20% discount on new products introduced by the chain through Sept. 15. The offer is being supported by a new ad campaign.

That’s hardly a measure that could put vacations at risk. But you have to wonder if it plays into the pratfall of all discounts aimed at fans of a concept: Are you truly drawing additional visits and transactions from loyal followers, or are you merely cutting the take from a sale you would’ve made anyway?

Rosenfield also mentioned a new “business-to-business” campaign. He didn’t explain the program, but the context suggested it may be a telemarketing blitz to boost catering sales.

He did explain that the chain will try an off-premise, centralized call center to boost takeout business, which currently accounts for 14% of CPK’s sales. That test will commence next month, he said.

In discussing the chain’s financial results for the second quarter, CFO/COO Sue Collyns noted that delivery sales tanked for the chain in early July. The chain uses third-party delivery companies to truck its pies to consumers’ homes. The new call-center test is intended to recapture some of that off-premise business, she and Rosenfield indicated in their comments.

Rosenfield cited the company’s determination to reach customers “through all our many touch points.” He didn’t mention any helicopters.

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