Phantom promo costs Domino’s 11,000 pies

Clever viral-marketing hoax or simple accident? On March 30, Domino's franchisees were hit with 11,000 orders overnight as part of a free medium-pie promotion that didn't even exist. Or so they thought. Turns out in December, Crispin Porter + Bogusky devised an online promotion using the password "bailout." It never got the green light from corporate, but no one went back and disabled the code, says Domino's rep Tim McIntyre. Three months later, he says, a consumer, tinkering with Domino's online ordering, "randomly" typed in the word and triggered the free coupon. That happened late this past Monday night. By the time store owners opened Tuesday, their computers were "dinging" with orders. More than half of the 5,000 U.S. stores had at least one redemption. Based on the volume of orders at two particular stores, the company thinks the whole thing started at a college near either Cincinnati or Salt Lake City. Soon, value blogs picked it up, the run on free pizzas spread. The company, which is reimbursing franchisees for the cost of food, disabled the promotion at 11:30 a.m. on March 31, the day before April Fool's Day. "That was just a quirk of timing. This isn't a hoax, scam or hacker. It's an honest-to-goodness mistake," insists McIntyre. But he admits it's "reinforced to us the power of viral marketing and the power of the word 'free' with 'pizza.' " And in these grim times, it proved cathartic for consumers: "When word got around and people found out that it was a mistaken free promotion, they liked it even more," he says. "People liked it because they felt, 'We just stuck it to the man.' "

—Posted by Noreen O'Leary

Join Dwyane WadeJulian DuncanAndrea BrimmerRick Gomez and more at Brandweek Masters Live, on Sept. 14-17, for main stage insights, in-depth Masterclasses and more. Register now (early-bird rates expire 9/1)