Aishwarya Ramesh
Points of View

Why is Domino’s ‘free pizza for life’ promise to Olympian Mirabai Chanu getting polarised reactions?

Domino’s used a moment creatively, acted fast, and got noticed. Now, is it important for the brand to deliver on this promise? Who’s keeping score?

On winning a silver medal in the weightlifting category at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics, Domino’s Pizza was the first brand to congratulate Mirabai Chanu on her success. The QSR giant also tweeted that she was eligible for ‘free pizza for life’.

In response, Chanu expressed her thanks to the pizza chain for its offer. When asked what she would like to do after winning India’s first silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Chanu had said that she wanted to eat pizza. Pictures soon surfaced of the Olympian eating one delivered to her house.

For Domino’s, this was an opportune moment for publicity at the behest of an athlete’s victory. However, for an athlete to reach that point involves a lot of hard work, grit, determination and, of course, a healthy diet and exercise routine. A lot of people on social media were quick to point out that Domino’s, at its core, does not make healthy food, and its move to offer Chanu ‘free pizza for life’, was criticised.

Domino’s tweet received polarising views. In essence, it seemed like Domino’s was making a promise nobody could hold it accountable for.

Lifetime rewards from a brand are common in other countries, but it is not yet a common phenomenon in India. Domino’s has ridden the wave, got glory, and everyone’s going to move on. But it is a promise that has to be upheld. How will Domino’s be held accountable? Why is it rubbing people the wrong way? We speak to a few branding experts to find out.

Edited excerpts:

Divyapratap Mehta, founder, Intertwined Brand Solutions (ex-national planning director, Publicis)

Divyapratap Mehta
Divyapratap Mehta

If netizens have polarised views over Domino’s moves, it’s because the company sells pizza – which isn’t a very healthy food. What’s happening in the world right now is that there is a certain movement towards (against) junk food. When brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Domino’s try to do something, certain sections of the audience will question it. They’re trying to question the larger impact of the move.

Domino’s is also being criticised as it is a non-Indian QSR brand. Otherwise from Domino’s perspective, it’s a very sweet gesture. It’s just that there’s a thin line between something for a good cause versus trying to do something as a gimmick for social media.

I think brands need to be careful about that. That’s where Domino’s is facing backlash from a certain section. If the company really wanted to do something meaningful for her (Chanu), it should’ve been a much bigger initiative, than just giving her ‘free pizza for life’.

K. Vaitheeswaran, founder and CEO, Again Drinks

K Vaitheeswaran
K Vaitheeswaran

We live in a world where clever moment marketing gives you huge brownie points with the consumers, employees and stakeholders. Domino’s India wanted to leverage the moment...

The reality is how many pizzas is she going to eat? She is an athlete. In a very nice innocent manner, she had conveyed that she stayed away from things she liked as a determination and discipline to build towards the Olympics.

I don’t think she said it because she wanted to eat pizzas. She will eat one pizza because she feels good, it’s part of the celebration. After that, she won’t eat one because the next games (in Paris in 2024) will come up. Nobody needs to track Domino’s.

The reason why people are getting annoyed is that, unlike cricket, where there’s a game every day, the Olympics come once in every four years. Most people in India won’t keep track of her until the next games… When she went on to win a silver medal, Domino’s India jumped on the bandwagon. If it was cricket, nobody would worry.

A day after she won the medal, Amul carried an ad. Nobody said anything about it because Amul has done moment marketing for a long time. It has been doing moment marketing before moment marketing became moment marketing.

Was Domino’s right? It doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is we are trying every opportunity to get our brand out on social, and if you can do it without investing too much money, then why not? It’s a brand manager’s dream.

Rishabha Nayyar, co-founder and strategy lead, Fatmen

Rishabha Nayyar
Rishabha Nayyar

We all know the importance of salience for categories, which is impulse-driven. Just recalling the brand in a category, like pizzas, can make one salivate and hit the order button.

When the day’s biggest media headline is an Olympic champion expressing her desire to indulge in a pizza, then as a pizza brand, you know the opportunity is God sent! Within two hours of her making the statement, Domino’s congratulated her with a ‘free pizza for life’ offer and, later, backed it up by delivering pizzas to her family back home.

As, perhaps, its biggest moment marketing window ever in India, Domino’s has surely hit the ball out of the park. For me, the move works brilliantly, as it builds salience, love and respect for the brand. While the majority of the netizens have praised it, a few have criticised it for being opportunistic, not having proof of delivery, not being the right thing for an athlete, etc.

For me, the negativity on the tweet comes largely owing to two reasons – larger societal view that brands benefit more from the society than they give back, and the general lack of credibility around brand promises put out in communication.

While many people are doubting if Domino’s will keep its promise, I find the concern to be unwarranted… If, as a brand, I failed in delivering this promise, the negative publicity would harm my equity to a very large extent. As Domino’s, I would do everything to keep the promise and make sure I am leveraging it in future.

Well played Mirabai! Well played Domino’s!