For eons, scientists and theologians have pondered the strange connection between a full moon and shifts in the pizza market. Actually, I made that up, but how else do you explain the weirdness that unfolded in the sector as a big white pie rose into the nighttime sky? As any werewolf will tell you, the two currents run together like tomato sauce and olive oil.
Consider this evidence.
‘Bring back our strangest ad character!’
The restaurant industry has birthed its share of bizarre marketing figures, from Herb the Nerd (a loser whose only redeeming quality was loving Whoppers) to Quiznos’ sponge monkeys. Squarely in that pack is the Noid, a buck-toothed troll outfitted in a fire engine-red jumpsuit with strange rabbit-like ears.
He was supposedly a mischievous but lovable superpower who could wreck any pizza delivery that didn’t start with a call to Domino’s. The chain adopted the marketing tag line, “Avoid the Noid,” and spread awareness (of the character, at least) by putting the Noid in a video game. Rights were even negotiated for a Noid TV program, though the producers backed away because of accusations they were trying to sell pizza to children on the sly.
The Noid’s run ended in tragedy when a deranged man named Kenneth Lamar Noid held two Domino’s employees hostage for five hours in a unit outside Atlanta, demanding $100,000 for what he alleged was a personal attack from the chain. After the real Noid was apprehended, Domino’s decided to mothball the cartoon character.
But, like Elvis, the Noid may still be with us. Domino’s announced this week that it would award two packages of Noid memorabilia as the top prizes in a sweepstakes accompanying the rollout of a $7.99 seven-days-a-week pizza deal. Domino’s said it scoured the internet to dig up goodies like a Noid lunchbox. “If you don’t know who the Noid is, stop reading,” Domino’s advises on a special website, PizzaPayback.com, that was set up to tout the offer.
Is fear swelling pizza sales?
The quick-service market might have caught some Noid-itis during the second quarter, judging from the lackluster financial performance of former high-flyers like Taco Bell (comps down 1% for the period) and Dunkin’ (comps up just 0.5%). Executives and researchers say June was a particularly difficult month, though they don’t agree on the whys.
One financial institution has put forth an unusual theory as to why pizza chains appear to have dodged the slowdown (Domino’s posted a domestic comp-store rise of 9.7% right before the Noid’s comeback was revealed). KeyBanc Capital Markets postulated that consumers are staying home amid the social and political turmoil of recent weeks instead of venturing out to their usual casual-dining haunts. Instead of cooking, they’re calling Papa John’s and its competitors, boosting their sales while cutting visits to full-service places by as much as 5%.
Cracking down on delivery times
The Noid probably couldn’t have afforded his first snazzy suit if Domino’s hadn’t drawn so much business in the old days with a service guarantee: Get your pie in 30 minutes or it was free. The come-on was abandoned after a rash of litigation alleging the guarantee forced Domino’s deliverers to drive recklessly fast to stay within the 30-minute window.
Now come signs that guarantees are making a comeback. Certainly, consumers are being conditioned to note how accurately restaurants forecast delivery times. The sister third-party services GrubHub and Seamless announced about 11 days ago that they would start asking delivery customers to include an assessment of how accurately the source of their meals predicted the time of arrival. The patrons are also being asked to rate the accuracy of the order.
A different sort of fast food
If delivery drivers stomp too hard on the gas pedal to stay within the forecasted service time, they’ll get more than a ticket if they’re in the Washington, D.C., area. A restaurant there called Caribbean Creations is extending a discount to any driver who’s caught speeding by one of the city’s traffic cameras.
The region is in the midst of what appears to be a speeding crackdown. The District issued 365,000 speeding tickets just during the first half of 2016, according to the local NBC affiliate.