Arama They Didn't

4:08 am - 04/04/2012

In Japan, Pizza Is Recast as a Meal for Special Occasions

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Kenji Ikeda walks into a conference room toting a pink, heart-shaped pizza box in one hand. In the other is a pizza box that looks like the moon.

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Kenji Ikeda

Mr. Ikeda is exec VP-marketing for Domino's Pizza in Japan -- a country that to Americans may as well be the moon when it comes to pizza. In the U.S., pizza is the epitome of casual -- frequently mentioned in the same breath as beer and football. In Japan it's a more upscale affair. Christmas Eve, the most popular day of the year to share a pie with family and friends, is big business for Domino's, with sales three to four times that of a normal Saturday.

"Kentucky Fried Chicken was the tradition in Japan. People would get together to eat fried chicken and Christmas cake -- it was a common thing," Mr. Ikeda told Ad Age, through a translator, at the company's Tokyo headquarters. "So we started driving people to order pizza. Now, people perceive [Christmas Eve] as an occasion to buy fried chicken, get pizza delivered and then eat Christmas cake."

Pizza doesn't have much of a history in Japan, with Domino's entering the market in 1985. The chain has just 15% market penetration in its delivery areas, and the average Japanese pizza eater indulges only four times a year. Domino's ranks No. 3 in the country, behind domestic chain Pizza-La and Pizza Hut, in revenue and number of locations. But Domino's execs expect to beat Pizza Hut on revenue this year.

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President-CEO Scott K. Oelkers appeared in a video from the moon as part of Domino's Japan's space-expansion campaign.

To compete and cultivate a pizza-loving culture, Domino's Japan is working to create more occasions to enjoy it. On Valentine's Day, it delivered heart-shaped pizzas in those pink boxes with the message: "Be careful. This pizza and you two are really hot. Don't get burned!" Heart-shaped pizzas will also make an appearance for Mother's Day.

Working with ad agencies ADK and Hakuhodo, Domino's has also adopted a zany marketing style devoid of TV spots.

"TV commercials don't have the same impact as before," Mr. Ikeda said, adding that the company hasn't purchased TV ads in five years. "Internet and social media are getting so big."

Rather than spending on commercials, we're trying to create newslike topics that people talk about," he said. "If the topic is hot and fun, people will spread it for us. Although we don't have any commercials, we get featured on news and other programs."

The toppings alone deserve a shout-out. Japanese pizzas come with toppings that pepperoni-loving Americans couldn't fathom. Domino's has sold a $50 pie featuring foie gras. And a recent $50 offering was the "Prestige Quattro" with a different topping on each quarter: classic margherita, snow crab and shrimp gratin, Mangalitsa pork with Bordeaux sauce, and beef stew with fresh mozzarella.

"The gourmet pizza outlets in America have nothing on our Japanese delivery menu," said Scott K. Oelkers, president-CEO of Domino's Pizza Japan and an American.

Japanese consumers value aesthetics, so presentation is also key. Patrons expect every slice to have precisely the same amount of toppings, which must be uniformly spaced and arranged. Shrimp, for example, are angled with the tails pointing the same way.

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Domino's Pizza Japan Moon Branch Project.

The Japanese "really care about the look of the food," Mr. Ikeda said. "Japanese food is all about the beauty of the setting, how it's laid out and the color. So we care a lot about that."

Mr. Ikeda, 54, joined Domino's 24 years ago as a store manager in Tokyo and rose through the ranks. He solidified his marketing reputation in 2010, helping Domino's Japan gain worldwide attention with a "25 Surprises" campaign to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

One promotion in particular received heavy media coverage. The chain offered 2.5 million yen (about $31,000 at the time) for one hour's work at a Domino's store. The company's Ann Arbor, Mich., headquarters, which had not been informed, was confused by calls from "applicants." Mr. Oelkers received submissions from Eastern Europe in his personal email account. In all, about 12,000 people applied.

The lucky winner was a rural housewife who had never eaten delivery pizza. She flew to a remote island in a small Cessna to deliver pizzas to schoolchildren also new to pizza. She donated her "wages" to charity.

"All we did was post it on a site," Mr. Oelkers said. " "Here's this job, you get paid 2.5 million yen for an hour of work, please apply.' The budget on this deal was extremely small. It just went viral in Japan and around the world."

Other anniversary promotions included a free pizza every year for people born on the same date that Domino's was founded in Japan, free pizza for every 25th person to order online and gold slice trophies for anyone ordering all 73 products on the menu. A contest to name the best-looking delivery man was suspended after someone rigged a computer to vote repeatedly for a short, chubby candidate, eventually crashing the system.

In keeping with its out-of-this-world antics, Domino's announced last summer that it would build the first-ever pizza store on the moon. The chain worked with space agency JAXA (the Japanese equivalent of NASA), Honda and other high-profile companies to detail plans for the construction, including an engineer's presentation and funding breakdown for the lunar outpost. (Total price tag for Domino's pizza joint on the moon: $21 billion.)

"We wanted to come up with something that no others would think of, but we wanted to take a serious approach to this project," Mr. Ikeda said.

"We considered that ... people wouldn't take it seriously, so other entities needed to collaborate with us," he continued. "[Then] people started thinking, "How serious are they? They might be really serious.' That's what we wanted everyone to think."

Honda engineers even designed a "moon scooter," said Mr. Oelkers, who has a starring role in the space-expansion campaign. He donned an astronaut's suit in a grainy video from "space." Mr. Oelkers, 52, became widely recognized in Taiwan years ago after starring in a series of silly Domino's spots, including one that spoofed "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

"He's the most suited to be an astronaut on the moon," Mr. Ikeda said, unable to suppress laughter.

"Sorry about that," Mr. Oelkers deadpanned. "It was not my idea."

Messrs Oelkers and Ikeda declined to disclose the marketing budget of Domino's Japan but said the stores spend the same percentage of sales on media as U.S. stores.

According to Domino's annual report, there are 4,907 stores in the U.S., which contribute 5.5% of sales to fund national marketing campaigns. With just 210 locations in Japan, the total budget is small for such an expensive media market -- hence the emphasis on creative stunts and digital marketing.

The offbeat strategy appears to be paying off. Individual-store sales are almost 50% higher than the average U.S. store, and same-store sales have been up three years in a row, Mr. Oelkers said.

Rip KFC for Xmas?
Source: Ad Age
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kimiko1387 4th-Apr-2012 02:58 am (UTC)
Patrons expect every slice to have precisely the same amount of toppings, which must be uniformly spaced and arranged.

I can agree with this. I get agitated when the cheese slides to one side from being in the car or a slice barely has any toppings.

Dominos coming a long way from the "Look what I do to you pizza" dude.
exdream1999 4th-Apr-2012 03:00 am (UTC)
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I also got the special Valentine's tiramisu roll cake.

No regrets.
xoxeskel 4th-Apr-2012 03:31 am (UTC)
That looks a lot better than I expected.
chibi_hime 4th-Apr-2012 03:01 am (UTC)
At ~$30 for a "large" sized pizza, it should be for special occasions only... I did start liking mayo on my pizza.

And I must say, my Pizza Hut in Kanagawa did have really attractive delivery guys.
ryocchi 4th-Apr-2012 03:46 am (UTC)
glider 4th-Apr-2012 03:18 am (UTC)
this post makes me want pizza gdi
jia_zhang 4th-Apr-2012 03:22 am (UTC)
I've found that pizza from Asia just tastes off. I mean, not to say it's bad, but it's >_>; I went to Pizza Hut in China and it was just, all I kept thinking was that I could make a better pizza.
yuliyudo 4th-Apr-2012 05:40 am (UTC)

I lived for several years in Germany, and I found Pizza Hut over there really tasty, the pan crunchy outside and fluffy inside. In other words: Loved them <3
But now I'm back in in my homecountry, Indonesia, and Pizza Hut is kinda meh in comparison *sigh*

Mou~ now I want a good pizza!!! >
simplyshiny514 4th-Apr-2012 03:26 am (UTC)
I love pizza. I'm a new pizza lover, I actually didn't eat it at all till last year. I don't think I would be able to stand it were only for special occasions.
mellastella 4th-Apr-2012 03:37 am (UTC)
Wuuuuuuuuuuuuut?!?!?!?! I've have pizza all my life, so much so that I can compare the different tastes from different pizzas well WITHOUT SEEING THE NAME ON THE BOX OR ANYTHING . . . Yeah, that's how much I love it. >.< lol

Edited at 2012-04-04 03:37 am (UTC)
atelierlune 4th-Apr-2012 03:37 am (UTC)
Great, now I'm hungry again.
lovelycandygirl 4th-Apr-2012 03:38 am (UTC)
That CEO guy looks stupid. btw, I love pizza all year round.
ryocchi 4th-Apr-2012 03:49 am (UTC)
Lol at the System crash thing, Such a shame, I would have love to see some sexy japanese delivery man.
usdutchkitty 4th-Apr-2012 04:09 am (UTC)
Got to say that I wouldn't mind a snow crab and shrimp pizza!

Edited at 2012-04-04 04:10 am (UTC)
squallina 4th-Apr-2012 05:04 am (UTC)
OP, you troll. Now I'm hungry for pizza. I'm supposed to be on a diet!

I'm currently joined with Pizza Hut (there's one not that far from me, with the most gorgeous delivery boys!) but this article has made me seriously consider joining Dominos too!
newsvsyamapi 4th-Apr-2012 06:10 am (UTC)
Loooove your comment and the gif is sooo appropriate! reminds me of the old Arashi no Shukuday-kun days XD
newsvsyamapi 4th-Apr-2012 06:08 am (UTC)
OMG look soooo yummy! now I'm craving for pizza T-T
baka_tenshi 4th-Apr-2012 06:23 am (UTC)
i've always loved domino's so in a way, i'm not surprised. 8)
kerplunk 4th-Apr-2012 08:01 am (UTC)
.....i want pizza now =_=

Edited at 2012-04-04 08:01 am (UTC)
kerplunk 4th-Apr-2012 08:36 am (UTC)

Edited at 2012-04-04 08:36 am (UTC)
tsu_ weirdest pizza topping???4th-Apr-2012 08:08 am (UTC)
mine was a yakisoba pizza; fried noodles on top of pizza, melted cheese, cracked egg in the middle, bonito flakes and seaweed with wasabi mayo

it sounds gross, but was absolutely delicious *_*
crescentharpe Re: weirdest pizza topping???4th-Apr-2012 01:58 pm (UTC)
OMG that sounds absolutely appetizing /drools


Edited at 2012-04-04 02:02 pm (UTC)
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