Sunday, March 20, 2005

Apprentice Show serves up Pizza

Michigan's biggest pizza delivery guys are gambling on billionaire Donald Trump and his hit reality-TV show to bring them a big, gooey slice of publicity later this month.
Domino's Pizza Inc. has served up mega-dough for a chance to star on "The Apprentice" -- NBC's pop-culture marketing machine -- March 31.
Contestants who are vying for a job at one of the celebrity billionaire's businesses reportedly will be given the task of creating a new style of pizza and then selling it on the streets of Manhattan.
What role will chief executive officer David Brandon -- the handsome, long-rumored candidate for Michigan governor -- play in the episode?
What kind of pizza are we talking about?
And could new spouse Melania Trump pop in for a slice of pizza? OK, half a slice?
And oh yeah, who's next to be fired?
Stay tuned for the answers.
The Ann Arbor-based pizza company won't spill the pepperoni because of its contract with Mark Burnett Productions, the company that makes the Trump show.
But one of many "Apprentice"-oriented Web sites -- -- is reporting that Domino's will star on March 31. They say the episode is called "The Pie's the Limit."
"The winners are treated to private dining in a palatial penthouse," the site reports, "while a strategic friendship comes to light in the boardroom."
Grabbing the spotlight on "The Apprentice" will give the nation's second-largest pizza maker a shot at pumping up its pop culture credentials and getting an edge in the pizza-awareness race.
Domino's was founded by Tom Monaghan and his brother James in 1960. In 1999, Monaghan sold his majority interest to Bain Capital Inc., a Boston-based investment firm, for $1.1 billion.
And last summer, the chain first issued shares to the public, including everyday investors and major institutions, such as Fidelity Management & Research Corp.
Domino's has big plans to build thousands of stores in the United States and overseas. Brandon has said the objective is to open 200 to 250 stores a year -- those are net openings, after taking into account any individual store closings.
Currently, Domino's operates roughly 7,800 franchised and company-owned stores in the United States and more than 50 countries. It posted global retail sales of more than $4.6 billion in 2004, up 10.5 percent from 2003.
The chain is second in sales to Pizza Hut; Papa John's International Inc. is No. 3, and Detroit-based Little Caesar Enterprises Inc. is No. 4.
The challenge for all big-name advertisers, like Domino's, is to deal with new ways of watching television. People aren't exactly glued to old-fashioned commercials any more.
They're forever clicking the remote control, surfing dozens of channels on cable, and yes, tinkering with TiVo to cut out commercials altogether.
"You don't have that captive audience on the sofa that you used to anymore," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Pop Television at Syracuse University in New York.
Enter the land of advertainment.
During this third season of "The Apprentice," a bunch of brand-name companies have paid millions of dollars to get in on the reality-show act. Estimates vary, but some industry insiders report that companies have paid $2 million to $3.5 million to be written into the plotlines.
The idea has been to create a show where the competitors are playing for high stakes with each challenge. They're not just selling dressed-up T-shirts and junk at flea markets anymore, like the teams did in the first season.
It's not Junior Achievement time. It's the fast track into Corporate America. The two teams are being challenged to create real-life products and develop real ads for well-known corporations.
They're being judged weekly, not just by Trump and his charming associates, but also by some of America's top business executives. So maybe we will see Domino's CEO Brandon on Trump's show.
Corporate executives recognize that "The Apprentice" has created a rather painless way to get consumers to watch one endless ad after another.
"You not only get the product, you get a pitch," Thompson said. "Donald Trump speaks like a commercial."
Who in Detroit can forget how Trump looked into the camera at the end of the first season and earnestly thanked Chrysler for its early support of "The Apprentice"?
The first season winner, Bill Rancic, rode away in a 2005 Chrysler Crossfire Roadster.
One night this season we watched the two teams, Magna and Net Worth, compete to develop a sandwich for Burger King.
The very next day, the winning Western Angus Steak Burger was on menus in 7,800 Burger King restaurants nationwide.
"We couldn't wait even a day to take this burger from the boardroom to the lunchroom," said Russ Klein, chief marketing officer for Burger King Corp. in Miami.
And why would they wait?
Another night, we cringed as both teams embarrassed themselves with truly awful ads for Dove Cool Moisture Body Wash.
Come on, splashing a liquid body soap on your face?
But Dove's not complaining.
"We were thrilled with the broad exposure," said Rob Master, senior brand manager for Dove.
And they should be.
"I know Dove body wash exists only because of that episode of 'The Apprentice,' " Thompson said.
I'll admit that the same is true for me.
And, like it or not, the same will be true for Domino's newest product.


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