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Fast food and casual restaurants are caught in a pickle -- and not the kind served on sandwiches. The American consumer is increasingly bored with the standards, and also wants something healthier and worthy of Instagram glory. Some have flourished in this era of Neo-Foodie/Spiritual Veganism, but most are finding it difficult to adapt. Darden Restaurants' Olive Garden is trying to sell its version of a craft burger, while Yum! Brands' Taco Bell is running in the opposite direction of reason and making tacos out of Doritos. The latter strategy, as many know, was more successful. Here is another fast-food giant stamping the term "menu innovation" in hopes of regenerating consumers' love.
Domino's (NYSE: DPZ ) is an icon of American food. It's solid pizza that you will find almost anywhere in the U.S. (and many regions around the world) within about 20 minutes. In its core market, growth is slowing as the company competes with the tides of change. As noted by fellow Fool Dan Klein, the company last introduced a new product in fall 2012 -- handmade pan pizzas. Now, Domino's is rolling out another exciting product, yet this one is utterly bizarre.
"Specialty Chicken" is the unappetizing, focus-group-like name of a new menu item that replaces crust with fried chicken. It's not a "pizza" by normal standards, but it's also not really anything other than boneless fried chicken with cheese and other stuff on top of it. The ads for the Specialty Chicken include the phrase "Failure Is an Option," as to get ahead of the impending doom of the product and say, "We told you it wouldn't work!"
Does it make any sense? No. Is it a product that will reignite domestic interest in Domino's? Maybe. One has to hand it to management (marketing in particular) for capitalizing on the culinary boredom rampant in the U.S. But whereas Olive Garden made a legitimate effort at trying to sell a burger at an Italian chain restaurant, Domino's is allowing its bizarre menu addition to be a joke -- a marketing stunt over all else. This is a classic marketing scheme, reimagined for today's instant-gratification culture. Social media feeds and articles buzzed about the new product, getting the word "Domino's" in front of everybody very quickly.
This self-aware "menu innovation" could be one of the best marketing stunts we see all year. It won't cost Domino's or store owners much at all -- the company already goes through heaps of boneless chicken. The company doesn't have to sell lots of Specialty Chicken, since the company has already acknowledged its likely failure. What it does do is remind the consumer that Domino's is a fun company -- sort of like Taco Bell and its Doritos taco, which ended up being a tremendous, record-breaking success of a product.
Through humor and very specific targeting, Domino's has updated its image in today's cutthroat fast-food business. While Specialty Chicken may not become a mainstay of the menu, it will serve as an example of knowing your market and playing to it well.
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