Proof That Nothing Motivates Like Free Pizza

In December 1960, Tom and James Monaghan bought a local pizza joint in Ypsilanti, Michigan without much fanfare or, for that matter, money — they paid the old owners $500 down and then borrowed another $900 to cover the rest of the purchase price. Within a year, James — who wanted to be a full-time postal carrier — sold his half of the business to his brother. Tom renamed the store “Domino’s” and began expanding. By the 1980s, Domino’s Pizza had franchises across the world. 

Having all those stores in all those places requires some creative marketing efforts, and Domino’s hasn’t been shy about thinking outside the pizza box. They famously had a 30-minutes-or-its-free delivery policy for years. They introduced the world to the cartoon mascot “The Noid.” And then there were the tattoos — in Russia, at least.

On August 31, 2018, the Russian part of the Domino’s empire offered its fans a great deal: 100 pizzas a year, for free, for the next 100 years. By any reasonable stretch, that’s basically free pizza for life. All you had to do was brand yourself with their brand — literally. To claim the prize, Domino’s aficionados (or just those who wanted a lot of free pizza) had to “get a permanent tattoo of the Domino’s logo ‘on a visible spot’ of their bodies” (per the BBC). And of course, this being 2018, you had to show your new tattoo off on social media; those interested as many as 10,000 free pizzas were told to post their new body art to Instagram or other social networks with the hashtag #доминоснавсегда, which for those who do not speak Russia, translates to #DominosForever.

The campaign was supposed to run through October, but many fans got an early start. One guy, for example, got the tattoo below featuring Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Nickelodeon, the owners of the TMNT, did not offer an incentive for their brand’s inclusion.) He posted it to Instagram, here, just three days after the announcement.

Pretty good, right? And if you look at the Instagram post itself, you’ll see that Domino’s responded, saying “Вау!) отлично) Спасибо большое за участие в акции!” (which basically translates to “Wow! Great! Thank you for participating!”). This person got the free pizza.

But he almost didn’t. Again, he shared his new body art on September 3, 2018, just days after Domino’s announced the promotion. And that’s important because had he waited even another 48 hours, there probably wouldn’t have been much pizza in his future. The next day, Domino’s changed its tune. Here’s what they posted to their social media channels on September 4th (original post here):

Yes, a stop sign. (In English, too, which is nice for those of us who would otherwise require translation.)

The pizza chain, originally, figured very few people would take them up on their offer — who wants to have a Domino’s logo permanently etched in their skin? But they failed to estimate the popularity of their fast food pizza. As Thrillist notes, within a few days, “Domino’s social media profiles were flooded with incredibly tasteful, tatted riffs of their logo.” Their intent was to give away a few hundred pizza-for-life cards; at the rate the promotion was going, as many as 5,000 customers could be entitled to the reward. That’s 50 million free pizzas over the course of a century, which isn’t a great business model. 

Domino’s cried uncle and put an early stop to the campaign. The text of the post (and I’ll spare you the Russian this time) effectively says that only the first 350 people would get their pizza for life, and if you were in the tattoo artist’s chair when they posted their “Stop,” they’d honor those entries, too. (Per Vox, they ultimately gave out 381 pizza-for-life deals.) And for those who had appointments in the future? Domino’s advised that they cancel their appointments — there was no more free pizza to be had.

In a backward way, the stunt worked. Domino’s got a lot more attention than they expected, as news media outlets began covering their reversal. And the fans were happy too — not only did a bunch of them eagerly ink themselves in hopes of getting the reward, but there were no reports of people complaining about getting a tattoo but not receiving their free eats.

Bonus fact: What did James Monaghan get for his 50% stake in the first Domino’s? Half a car. The brothers shared ownership in a Volkswagen Beetle which they to used make deliveries; James took title to the car free and clear of Tom in exchange for his half of the pizzeria.

From the Archives: The Macroeconomic Madness Behind Extra Cheesy Pizza: Government cheese meets Domino’s chefs.