- What’s in a name, wrote Shakespeare. Based on this case, a whole heck of a lot.
Language can be funny sometimes, especially when it comes to slang. Completely innocuous words can take on wholly new meanings and using them without knowing the new context can cause… Interesting results.
The U.S. pizza chain Domino’s learned this lesson the hard way after its ad campaign in Australia and New Zealand backfired. Trying to cash in on online memes, Domino’s instead received the vitriol of outraged social media users.
At the center of the drama was Domino’s use of the word ‘Karen’.
But isn’t that just a regular run-off-the-mill woman’s name, some of you may ask. If you’re not up to date with the freshest memes, prepare for a crash course.
In online slang, ‘Karen’ has taken on a life of its own. On social media it has become a pejorative term used to describe an entitled and self-important middle-aged white woman.
To give you an example, that lady screeching at the cashier at your local supermarket about having to wear a mask because of the coronavirus? That’s a Karen.
That news story about the woman who called the cops on a black man who asked her to leash her dog? She’s a Karen.
The woman demanding to see the manager because the store won’t accept her expired coupon? A Karen.
Any questions? Good, let’s move on to our story.
So, what did Domino’s actually do to make people so angry? Well, their ad campaign offered free pizza to Karens.
Not that they wanted to celebrate the kind of belligerent behavior we described. Their campaign was, in their own words, aimed at the ‘nice’ Karens.
“In 2020, ‘Karen’ is no longer content to speak to the manager. Now, she’s dobbing in [Australian for squealing] her neighbours, refusing to quarantine, or wear a mask,” said Domino’s Chief Marketing Officer, ANZ Allan Collins.
“Consequently, the name Karen has become synonymous with anyone who is entitled, selfish and likes to complain. What used to be a light-hearted meme has become quite the insult to anyone actually named Karen,” Collins added.
So, the campaign’s point is to prove that not every Karen is so bad. Domino’s invited every good, law-abiding, mask-wearing Karen in Australia and New Zealand to submit proof of her name, alongside an explanation on why she’s one of the “nice ones”.
The company would pick a hundred lucky winners to receive an unexpired coupon for free pizza. It sounds kind a neat little marketing idea, doesn’t it?
Well, oh boy. Better buckle up, because the internet certainly didn’t think so.
‘Missed the Mark’
Soon after the campaign went live, complaints started coming in. Among other things, users on social media lambasted the promotion as being tone deaf and ignoring people with “actual” issues, such as the unemployed.
Australian actress Alanah Parkin said on her Twitter that Domino’s was should focus on the “genuinely marginalized people” instead of, well, Karens.
“This misses the mark completely. Give pizza to people in poverty, people who can’t get a wage subsidy… People who are actually struggling,” she wrote.
Doctor Karen Freilich agreed with Parkin, hoping that Domino’s would support financially struggling people instead.
“My name is Karen. Please don’t waste a pizza on me. Much rather you donate … to local orgs and charities supporting those actually affected by the 2020 crises,” she Tweeted.
After only 24 hours, Domino’s decided to pull the promotion in New Zealand. In a public apology, the company explained that the campaign was not intended to diminish anybody’s problems.
“We wanted to bring a smile to customers who are doing the right thing – Karen the nurse, Karen the teacher, Karen the mum,” the company said.
“Our intention was one of inclusivity only. Our pizza brings people together and we only had this at the heart of the giveaway.”
At the time of writing this article, the promotion appears to still be ongoing in Australia.
Winning in Any Case
So, what on Earth happened there? Was there a point to the internet outrage, or were Domino’s intentions completely misinterpreted on a mass scale?
From the perspective of Domino’s, it may not actually matter. Senior marketing lecturer Sommer Kapitan from the Auckland University of Technology thinks that the company stands to win despite the backlash.
“They are clearly connecting with a cultural moment, and that is always good from marketing standpoint,” Kapitan told Stuff. “It’s funny in a way that cultural references can be funny and endearing and it made me pay attention to Domino’s for maybe the first time this year.”
She said that the promotion was “irreverent” in a way that fit the sense of humor of Australians and New Zealanders. Based on the public reaction, we could disagree with her, but suppose an expert knows better.
Her main point, though, seems to be that all publicity is good publicity. Domino’s will likely see boosted sales because of the promotion, she said.
“The thing is, we are all talking about it and that’s gold,” Kapitan added.
Was this an insensitive slap in the face of the oppressed minorities, or just a well-meaning joke that got blown out of proportion? Tell us what you think in the comments!