Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The "bailout" pizza giveaway that wasn't

Last December, Domino's Pizza prepared an Internet coupon promotion which would give customers a free medium pizza if they ordered online and typed in the word "bailout." The promotion was never was approved for launch, and it stayed dormant until Monday night, when an enterprising (and, perhaps, bored) customer started typing potential passwords into the Domino's online ordering site.

The customer eventually tried "bailout," found the promotion, and got a free pizza.

You know it doesn't end there.

Word soon spread across the web via CNET. By the time Domino's stepped in to stop the pizza party, 11,000 free pies had been given away.

The company is reimbursing stores for the cost of the pizzas, including one Cincinnati franchisee who gave away 600.

"Silver lining: we learned some things," Domino's Tim McIntyre tells CNBC today, "like the power of viral marketing, the power of the word 'free' (although we already knew that), and it drove thousands of people to our online ordering website that might not have otherwise gone there."

Domino's is handling the goof about as well as corporately possible, even offering free cinnamon sticks for those who didn't take advantage of their initial error.

There's a good chance that most people who got the free pizza didn't know they weren't supposed to. And yet, you can be sure there were some others that wondered. At least one newspaper blogger didn't post the original free offer because she suspected it might be a mistake. That blogger, Lesley Mitchell of the Salt Lake Tribune, says she's finding a number of "deals" circulating that require unethical maneuvering on our parts, such as reprinting coupons only intended for one use.

Our perception of corporate America has never been worse than now, given layoffs and bailouts and bonuses after bailouts. Such sentiments might make it easier to type in that word - "bailout" - and justify a medium pizza as your small part of the pie.

Or you might be inclined to do so regardless of your feelings about the economy.

How hungry you would be for the deal - if you knew it was a corporate mistake?


Anonymous said...

Companies are liable for their own mistakes and their own websites.

The "enterprising" customer did nothing wrong. Sharing his good fortune with others wasn't wrong.

I'm surprised it took Domino's 11,000 free pizzas before they stopped the madness.

Anonymous said...

I saw the deal posted on yesterday morning before i left for work. I preordered a pizza for when i got home and told myt co workers about it so we enjoyed free piza for lunch too. It may have been a goof up but my pockets and stomach defintely enjoyed it.

Mike said...

Saying the customer did nothing wrong is certainly limiting your thinking. What is the difference of sitting at a web site HACKING coupon codes or someone sitting at a web site HACKING people's passwords? Sure you can try and justify it by saying if they did not want people doing it they should not have opened the hole... but the same can be true of software makers who have holes in their software that HACKERS use to carry out their damage.

Anonymous said...

That sort of "finders keepers" attitude is ridiculous and unethical (not to mention straight out of kindergarten). Anyone with any inclination that this wasn't a legitimate deal Domino's endorsed would have been ethically (though not legally or technically) called to abstain from using the code.

It's not right to capitalize on others' mistakes just because you can. And you know what? CAPITALISM just might WORK if everyone believed that way. The fact that everyone's willing to look out for themselves even if it hurts someone else is WHY we needed a "bailout" to begin with.

Orange Chuck said...

It may not be Brooklyn South but I would have taken a free one, that's for sure.

Steve said...

Follow-up question, particularly to Mike and Anonymous 6:39 since they are the only 2 so far arguing against,

What about those people who did take advantage of the deal, but did not know it was not legitimate (which is understandable if you saw it posted on or other coupon code sites)? Should these people reimburse Dominos? Just wanted to get your input.

Vincent said...

Nobody owes me anything I did not earn. No sense of "entitlement" in this house.

11,000 pizzas is a lot of ...uh cough..cough....dough.... for them to part with, without knowing the expense was coming.

Nah I would not take it, then again I would never order pizza from domino's.

Anonymous said...

You guys quit your whining. This is free advertisement for them. What major news publication isn't talking about this right now in prime time?

Mike said...

To Steve: Assuming you really are asking the question to me looking for an honest answer, my response of whether the other folks should reimburse Domino's for the pizza is, maybe. I say that because it depends on how the "offer" was presented to them. If the original person told all their friends they hacked a coupon code on Domino's web site for a free pizza, and their friends took advantage of it, and they told the same thing to their friends, then yes, they are all as guilty as the original person who hacked the coupon code. However, if it was presented on a coupon web site as a promotion Domino's was having, and to use coupon code 'bailout' to take advantage of the deal then, I would lean towards no. In my opinion, not knowing it was a hacked coupon makes what these people did completely different than what the people who knew it was hacked did. In today's marketing, companies offer coupon codes all the time, so using a coupon code is a normal part of our culture. I do not think anyone would suspect they were doing anything wrong just using a coupon code. This is completely different than if someone posted the account number and password to someone's bank account online... Posting this type of information online is certainly NOT part of our culture. Therefore, regardless of how you heard about the account number and password, I would hope everyone would know, accessing the account and doing anything with the person's funds would be wrong.

Panix said...

Don't feel sorry for Dominoes, this is better than millions in ads on TV. Every media outlet int he county is carrying the story, and millions or people will go to their website. If 1% order and pay, this will mean millions in sales, and a potential new customer base.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have an idea the true cost of a medium pizza at a major franchise (where they buy ingredients in bulk), less than a dollar. So their "mistake" cost them about $11,000, or 1/4th the cost of a 30 second national cable ad. The free publicity they and their website received is priceless.

Anonymous said...

I'm anon 6:39. Steve, I would call and see if they'd accept reimbursement myself, yes. That being said, it's a lot more understandable to accidentally use a coupon you think is legit than to take advantage of something you know isn't. I don't think we should use this as an excuse not to try to make it right after we find out, though.

Anon 7:46, I'm not sure why anyone's comment counts as "whining" (while yours is clearly a superior and rational response, right?). Anyway, this is "advertising" they didn't seek, thus they are paying 11,000 pizzas worth for something they didn't agree to buy. That's not how it's supposed to work.

Also, when does it become okay to do something unethical if the results "aren't so bad" for the harmed party? Even if the results are GOOD for the harmed party indirectly, the action is still unethical. You can try to rationalize all you want (in fact, tons of Americans do it every day with all kinds of unethical issues -- once again, hence the bailout) but something that isn't right, isn't right. And taking advantage of someone's mistake isn't right.

Anonymous said...

The only way I would eat that trash is if it were free. That sh!t ain't pizza, it's garbage.

Anonymous said...

Typing in different promo codes on a website is not hacking, obviously you know nothing about IT. The company is liable from whatever promotion their website spits out. They can choose not to honor it at the risk of a reputation hit, that's up to them.

Charlotteboy said...

I personally don't call sitting on a website to BUY something a HACK. Hacking is trying to get something for free. this guy origially was looking to get probably a discount of sorts, without knowing the published codes. yes, this person could have been the hero and called domnioes to verify, but how is he supposed to know they didn't mean to do it? You blame him, but why? I don't blame the guy that passed it. He didn't have a clue that they weren't trying to not do the promo. that's what's up.

elo said...

I wouldn't have any ethical qualms about this one. This is perfect example of what branding expert John Tantillo calls "adpublitzing"--an ad becomes an issue and ends up being written about in the media, increasing exposure exponentially. Tantillo pointed out on his marketing blog that although it probably wasn't an interest of planned guerilla marketing, it would have been a pretty brilliant one.

Whatever Domino's will have to shell out to reimburse the franchises will likely be far less than they would have spent for a campaign to promote their online ordering system. (I had no idea you could order Domino's online...). And the particular franchises hit will probably see more business in the future, too--without having had to spend (okay, only loan) any of their own money on marketing or other local discounts/offers. Tantillo's full post.