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Domino's comes clean with new pizza ads

CHICAGO (AP) -- For a pizza joint, it's a bold move to tell customers your crust tasted like cardboard and your sauce was like ketchup.

But that's just what Domino's Pizza Inc. has been saying since last month in untraditional ads about the recipes it abandoned when it launched its reformulated pizza.

As industry observers -- and even a late night TV host -- scratch their heads, the company's incoming CEO said the chain had no choice but to be honest about its old recipe pizza if it had any hope of winning back customers.

"The old days of trying to spin things simply doesn't work anymore," President Patrick Doyle, who will become CEO in March, told The Associated Press in an interview. "Great brands going forward are going to have a level of honesty and transparency that hasn't been seen before."

Using a documentary style, the TV ads offer glimpses of focus groups and Twitter messages where customers said Domino's pies were even worse than microwave pizza and "totally void of flavor."

The ads then cut to interviews in the Ann Arbor, Mich., company's test kitchen, where chefs and executives tout the new pies' bolder, richer sauce, a more robust cheese combination and herb- and garlic-flavored crust.

But it's the brutally honest tone that's causing many to take notice.

"It takes alpha meat balls to stand up and say 'America, we suck,"' comedian Stephen Colbert said while lampooning the campaign on his show last week.

For the record, after taking a bite he declared: "Is that a pizza or did an angel just give birth in my mouth."

At the same time, customers who preferred the 'old' Domino's are now left in the cold, experts said.

"By doing that they are basically saying, 'We've been shoveling you crap for years and now we want you to trust us,"' said Kelly O'Keefe, managing director of the Brand Center at Virginia Commonwealth University.