Scandal

In March of 2010 two employees of the US pizza chain Domino’s uploaded a video onto YouTube that showed them conducting a number of shocking public health law violations while preparing customer food in the Conover, North Carolina, branch of the chain.


Background

The Domino's video was posted only month after a video showing rats in a Taco Ball branch went viral and caused great harm to the fast food chain's reputation. In the Domino's video, the two employees were wearing the official uniforms and were filmed while putting cheese in their nose, blowing mucous on a sandwich and putting a sponge between their buttocks while preparing a customer’s meal. The Video was posted on a Monday night in March and due to strong viral dynamics it received over one million views by the following Wednesday. Besides YouTube the video was also very present in other social media channels, #dirtydominos for example was a top 50 trending hash-tag on twitter. In the aftermath of the scandal both employees were identified, by users of the site consumerist.com, and charged with the tempering of food.




Domino's response

The company found out about the clip on Tuesday morning. While Domino’s management began looking for the rogue employees within three hours after first taking notice of the video, they decided not to communicate the issue externally in order to not draw additional attention to the topic. This turned out to be a mistake as the video continued to gain traction on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Only on Wednesday did the company react by issuing a press statement announcing the identification, arrest and employment termination of the two employee’s as well as communicating the closure and sanitation of the Conover branch. Domino’s also created a Twitter account (@dpzinfo) in an attempt to gain control of the conversation. Additionally they were successful in removing the video from YouTube and posting an apology video by Patrick Doyle, president of Domino’s Pizza, which received over 330.000 views on YouTube.




Lessons learned

It is generally acknowledged that Domino’s management acted to slowly and underestimated the viral effect and harmfulness of the video. However, Domino’s did gain praise for reacting strongly, transparently and across channels once they started addressing the issue. The Domino's example is a classic case that illustrates the challenge for corporations to control the reputation of their brand in an increasingly connected and fast moving information and media landscape.

Some key learning's from the Domino's case for effective crisis management in today's media landscape are the following:

Preparation
- Have a crisis team and crisis plan in place
- Have a short-list of “nightmare” scenarios and develop corresponding response plans
- Make sure that you have a solid SEO foundation that will not be impacted by short-term trends or negative brand associations

Prevention
- Monitor your brand and buzz in the social sphere in real-time
- Use analytical tracking tools to react to negative brand buzz immediately
- Do not underestimate the impact an individual or small group of people can have on your brand reputation
- Offer a platform for your brand ambassadors, so they can alert you and defend your brand from allegations

Reaction
- React fast and do not simply “wait” for the problem to go away
- Do not just apologize, let impactful actions follow
- Be transparent and direct in your response strategy
- Engage in a dialogue with your customers to understand their concerns
- Identify and engage key influencers and opinion leader
- Take responsibility and do not look for scapegoats (if accusations have some merit)
- Use all available channels to react (e.g. social media, paid media, offline media)


External Sources

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/business/media/16dominos.html
http://blogs.wsj.com/independentstreet/2009/04/20/dominos-response-offers-lessons-in-crisis-management/
http://adage.com/article/news/crisis-pr-assessing-domino-s-reaction-youtube-hubub/136086/
http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/brandnewday/archives/2009/04/dominos_pizza_youtube_video_lesson_focus_on_standards_and_pack_your_own_lunch.html

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