scapegoat

Making Corporate Candor Funny

Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars is running a TV ad in which intern Chet Wallaby takes the blame for the inexplicable disappearance of the wildly popular Bacon Wrapped Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza from the chain’s menu.

The tongue-in-cheek bit, which features a corporate big-wig thanking the scapegoat intern for his honesty, works because it mirrors reality. A lot of C-suite executives designate someone else to convey the bad news or to take the spears for a corporate misstep.

The ad fits Little Caesars quirky brand personality, founded in 1959 by Mike Ilitch, a Detroit Tigers farm club shortstop. Ilitich’s wife, Marian, affectionately called him her “little caesar,” which became the chain’s name. What started as a single store has become an international food services company, known for filling the largest pizza order in history – 13,386 pizzas – and renowned for setting up Love Kitchens on wheels to feed victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

The bacon-wrapped pizza – a deep-dish pizza with 3.5-foot-long belt of bacon – was introduced in 2015. It drew the expected critical hazing for excess, but apparently it was popular with Little Caesars patrons. When the pizza slid from view on the menu, customers complained. Then, the TV ad announced its bacon-wrapped return.

Wallaby, the awkward, disingenuous scapegoat in the TV ad, is a perfect representation of other designated fall guys. Scapegoating is far too common, which makes the spoof funny and memorable. In real life, scapegoating is less funny and hard to forget. It can even be a brand killer.

Domino’s rebranded itself around a new pizza “from the crust up,” with ads that admitted its previous pizzas tasted like cardboard. The “Our Pizza Sucks” campaign was plaudits for “corporate candor."

Most brands may not need to go as far as Domino’s, which dropped “Pizza” from its name and ran a series of ads showing its signs being pulled down. But some – take note, Chipotle – might consider it.

Whether a brand is remade or not, owning reality is a quality that usually resonates with customers. And as Little Caesars shows, owning reality can be funny as well as serious. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Deep Pitfalls of Using Examples

Specific examples are an important part of storytelling and making a point. But they also can be a trap in waiting.

AOL President Tim Armstrong discovered that painful reality after mentioning the high costs associated with two "distressed babies" as an explanation for why he ordered changes in the company's 401(k) plan. 

The references backfired when Deanna Fei, mother of one of the babies Armstrong referred to, posted a detailed, moving piece on Slate titled, "My Baby and AOL's Bottom Line." Armstrong's reference to "distressed babies" had already travelled the social media trap-lines, with Armstrong the bulls-eye of pointed comments such as, "How many distressed babies does AOL pay this guy?"

The strong response prompted Armstrong to backtrack on his 401(k) plan change, eventually apologize to AOL employees and make personal calls to the two families whose children he cited as $1 million babies.

Fei, an author whose husband works at AOL, told reporters she accepted Armstrong's apology. But, as she said in her Slate article, "the damage to my family had already been done." Not to mention the damage to Armstrong's reputation.

In her article, Fei described the ordeal of her prematurely born daughter and her struggle to survive. "I don't take issue with Armstrong's number. I take issue with how he reduced my daughter to a 'distressed baby' who cost the company too much money. How he blamed the saving of her life for his decision to scale back employee benefits."