Alex Massie

A Pizza Strategy for Labour?

Text settings

Hopi Sen argues that Gordon Brown needs to run a Harry Truman-like campaign. That's probably right. But Labour's problem is that Brown is in a position that's more like the Truman of 1951 than the surprisingly victorious Truman of 1948. The economy has done to Gordon waht the Korean War did to the great haberdasher and, like Truman, Brown's approval ratings have plummeted. (At one point Truman's slumped to 22%). Eventually, of course, defeat in the New Hampshire primary helped persuade Truman not to run at all and it was Adlai Stevenson who was defeated by Eisenhower.

It's too late - surely! - for Labour to persuade Brown to step aside. Last week's botched coup attempt was the final chance. So what can Labour do? Perhaps they could take some inspiration from an unlikely source: Domino's Pizza.

Domino's is awful. Even by the standards of franchised fast-food companies their pizza is terrible. When you're beaten by Pizza Hut you know you have a problem. So they've tried something risky: admitting that the product sucks. As this film demonstrates, Domino's has embarked on a Pizza Masochism Strategy:

Step One, then, is admitting you have a problem. Step Two is doing something about it. And remember, Domino's don't have to make great pizza, they just need to make pizza that is competitive with, or no less unpleasant, than that offered by Pizza Hut and their other competitors. In the political arena, Labour don't need to be good, they just need to be competitive with the Tories (aka Pizza Hut).

Granted, slamming and then reinventing your own brand is a last-ditch strategy. But it's not as though Labour have many attractive options. As Seth Stevenson puts it:

Of course it seems risky for a brand to go negative on itself. But imagine if Domino's had spent two years and tens of millions of dollars reformulating its pizza (which it did), and then launched the revamped pie with a simple "new and improved" spot. A "We took our great pizza and made it even yummier!" kind of ad. Would anyone notice? Would anyone talk or tweet about the fact that the Domino's recipe had been altered? "Google the words new and improved," says Domino's chief marketing officer Russell Weiner, "and I think you'll get about 160 million hits. They're two of the more overused words in marketing. They've become wallpaper."

[...] Who might be swayed by ads like these? A potential new customer. Someone who has always been lazy enough to order Domino's but was afraid—due either to nightmarish past experiences or just a general assumption—that the pizza would be indigestible. Someone who needs an excuse to pull the trigger again, or for the first time. For people like this, Domino's honest acknowledgment of past shortcomings might be enough to earn the brand a second look.

Indeed. Other potential Labour customers might include people who aren't convinced by the Tories' own reinvention but would like to see Labour up its own game, address its past mistakes honestly and demonstrate a commitment to doing better in the future. In this scenario, getting rid of Gordon would offer little more than yet another "new and improved" advertising campaign of the sort we've all heard too many times before. The Domino's campaign offers a different path.

Now I've not actually tasted Domino's new pizza so can't say it there really has been any (much-needed) improvement, but their campaign has at least persuaded one to contemplate the idea of trying them some time in the future when no reliably good pizza is available. And in politics, of course, there is no reliably good pizza anyway so what do Labour have to lose?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.