Domino's stepped on a big, famous flatfish and now the flatfish, which has allegedly beaten a fishermen or two to death over the years, is fighting back. Or at least the flatfish's backers are fighting back.
"Hey Domino's: Why Did You Have To Go And Hate On Halibut," asks Food Republic.com, adding its voice to those of many Alaskans crying foul about a new television advertising campaign from the pizza giant.
As Carl Johnson, a federal subsistence manager, and Alaskan, notes on his Facebook page:
Never, ever going to be powered by this pizza. Domino's disparages the largest state in the Union and its 650,000 residents by slamming halibut. But we in Alaska are #poweredbyhalibut, thank you very much. Sure, Domino's 'apologized' for its treatment of Alaskans and halibut, but the ad still runs on the air. Not a very sincere apology.
Why the hell couldn't Domino's contrast itself with the McDonald's Quarter Pounder or the original Kentucky Fried Chicken in its new ad campaign: "Startups Don't Run On Halibut" ... ?
Why? Why? Why?
Maybe because it's quite possible startups actually do run on McDonald's or KFC or sushi or Chinese takeout when they're not running on Domino's?
I don't like Domino's picking on the seafood pride of Homer, Alaska, either -- strange-looking though these fish might be until you peel off their skin. But I don't feel all that insulted by the ad campaign because I understand why Domino's did it.
The company needed another dinner item for contrast against the ease and convenience of pizza for dinner, not to mention its apparently economical price. In this context, it would be foolish for Domino's to pick on any of its competitors while marketing food on the fly.
That would simply be underlining the fact that when you're working late on that startup or college term paper or whatever, there are alternatives to pizza. A "Startups Don't Run on Chinese Takeout" campaign might, sadly for Domino's, just lead someone to say, "Hey, I'm tired of pizza at these meetings. Let's try good, old-fashioned Chinese takeout.''
OK. So the Domino's ad team brainstorming this campaign looks around for some sort of dinner item with which it doesn't compete.
What dinner item would that be? Beef? Chicken? Pork?
Americans love their beef and their chicken. Pork might work, but a "Startups Don't Run on Porkchops" campaign, while funny, might offend some people. You can almost hear someone in the ad meeting say, "I don't know. What if we offend the pork lobby?"
After which someone else at the table volunteers, "What we need here is a dinner staple almost nobody eats."
A few ideas get tossed around the room until someone remembers the outrageously expensive halibut they ate in a New York restaurant the day or week or month before.
"Halibut?" someone asks.
"Perfect" comes the answer.
When you say "halibut," most everyone in America thinks of a sit-down dinner. The symbolism is perfect for the ad campaign. Domino's is what the smart people who don't have time for a fancy, sit-down dinner eat when they need to work through the night.
A lot of Alaskans probably don't recognize that halibut for most people, nearly all of them Outside, is now part of a restaurant meal. The symbolism plays to the suggestion we can order some pizzas and get the job done, or we can go to a restaurant and waste a lot of time.
The video of some guy trying to eat a plate of halibut at his desk only underlines the symbolism. Clearly, as the video shows, halibut is not something you're going to eat at your desk, unless you're an Alaskan who grew up with beer-battered halibut or "halibut McNuggets," as my daughter called them when she was little.
She was a big fan of halibut mcnuggets, or what would be the "fish" part of "fish and chips" in the real world. But almost no one in the real world eats halibut as part of fish and chips anymore. Too expensive.
Some other whitefish usually gets put in the batter, which is why the Domino's campaign wasn't labeled "Startups Don't Run on Fish and Chips." Well, that and the fact a sizable portion of the population still eats fish and chips, and fish and chips are actually another finger-food alternative to pizza for that business meeting.
Halibut is looking better by the minute as a whipping boy, isn't it?
That makes it hard for me to be offended. That and the fact that at this point halibut could use any exposure. It is rare enough and costly enough that many in America never think of halibut as a viable dinner option.
There might some value to simply spreading the idea halibut is still available. Halibut might benefit if even one American home cook sees that ad and thinks, "Gee, halibut. I haven't thought about that for a long time. Let's see if we can find some at the supermarket and give that a try for a change."
And just think of the opportunity Domino's presented the healthy food people, like Food Republic, to make the case for halibut as a health food:
Did you know that halibut is a nutrient-dense food and a good source of high-quality protein. Halibut is also rich in minerals like selenium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, as well as vitamins B12, niacin and B6. And perhaps most important, halibut offers the beneficial omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Domino's, why not single out more inconsequential foodstuffs like popcorn, Heath bars, gazpacho, Melba toast, black olives or Grape-Nuts?
Wait, I can answer that. Because "popcorn, Health bars, gazpacho, Melba toast, black olives or Grape-Nuts" are snacks (unless you think of breakfast as an actual meal), and Domino's is trying to pitch itself as alternative to dinner.
Obviously order-out pizza isn't going to match the highly-rated halibut at Craft in New York City, but you have to go to Craft to order the halibut. And the halibut alone is $35. Add a side of potato, maybe another of vegetable plus a salad, and, well, pretty soon the price-per-person for dinner is up to the cost of feeding Domino's to the whole staff of that startup.
Granted, the Domino's ad doesn't make halibut look all that tasty, but in the bigger scheme of things a tiny dissing of one of Alaska's favorite fish is a small thing compared to some of the Alaska blabble pushed off as "news" these days.
And the one real fact in all of this is that startups don't run on halibut.
When was the last time you were involved in a late-night meeting at work that ran on halibut? Ever?
Over the years, I've seen a lot of pizza at those meetings, some chicken, a fair bit of Chinese takeout, even sushi, sometimes some smoked salmon. But halibut? C'mon. You go home or to the restaurant for halibut.
Do Alaskans just look around for reasons to get offended?
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com
Alaska Dispatch Publishing