Domino’s resurrects ’80s brand icon the Noid to spotlight autonomous delivery

Dive Brief:

  • Domino’s is bringing back its infamous brand mascot the Noid to spotlight an autonomous delivery partnership with robotics company Nuro, according to an announcement.  

  • First introduced in the 1980s, the Noid is an animated character tasked with thwarting the pizza chain’s attempts at speedy delivery — a purpose that’s been updated for 2021 to focus on Nuro’s driverless R2 vehicles. The red-costumed villain appears in new TV ads and, for a limited time, as a mini-boss in the mobile game Crash Bandicoot: On the Run!, a title developed by Candy Crush maker King. 

  • Domino’s, tapping into enduring nostalgia for the ’80s, is also selling limited-run merchandise, including Noid-themed T-shirts and tumblers, on Amazon, with proceeds benefiting the Domino’s Partners Foundation. The Noid GIFs and stickers will be available across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok as part of a tie-up with Giphy. 

Dive Insight:

Domino’s draws on an enduring wave of consumer nostalgia for ’80s pop culture by resurrecting the Noid, a character originally charged with stopping the chain from fulfilling its promise of delivering pizza in 30 minutes or less. The mascot’s mission has been adjusted to account for trends particular to 2021, like autonomous delivery and mobile gaming — two technology areas experiencing increased traction amid the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, the bunny-eared icon’s appearance has received a digital upgrade after the initial iteration was done in the Claymation style by Will Vinton Studios, also known for bringing the California Raisins to life.   

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While the Noid is returning on some channels that didn’t exist during its initial run, other themes carry over. The first Noid was similarly marketed around video games, emerging during the early console craze and around the golden age of arcade play. Two games, Yo! Noid and Avoid the Noid, were eventually developed for the character. Now, the Noid will appear in an existing franchise as part of an in-game collaboration for King’s Crash Bandicoot: On the Run! title. Additionally, players will receive access to pizza-themed skins for their avatar in the mobile game. 

A full-court press on TV, mobile and social for the upgraded Noid speaks to how Domino’s is trying to differentiate when it comes to delivery. The brand was early to prioritize the channel, investing in internal capabilities that put it ahead of rivals as consumers gravitated more toward mobile and digital ordering. But the pandemic has enshrined delivery as a must-have for quick-service restaurants, with competitors leaning on third-party services like DoorDash, Grubhub and UberEats to close the gap. 

Domino’s is rolling the dice on autonomous delivery taking off in a meaningful way as COVID-19 drives up demand for contactless options. Earlier this month, the chain began a self-driving pilot in Houston that leverages Nuro’s R2 offering. When placing an online order, consumers in certain neighborhoods can choose the option to receive their pizza via the unmanned vehicles. Orders can be tracked in the Domino’s app and unlocked through a special PIN code.  

With a few decades in the rearview, Domino’s also likely hopes that consumers have largely forgotten why it first put the Noid out of commission. The character became the center of controversy after a disturbed man named Kenneth Lamar Noid held employees at a Georgia store location hostage at gunpoint in the late ’80s, believing the Noid ads were in some way mocking or inspired by him. Domino’s continued using the mascot following the incident, according to Food and Wine, but eventually retired the character after Noid died by suicide in 1995.

Bringing back the Noid comes as Domino’s creative strategy is evolving. In January, independent agency WorkInProgress took over duties as the brand’s agency of record (AOR), filling the role MDC Partners’ Crispin Porter Bogusky (CPB) held for 13 years. Colorado-based WorkInProgress was founded by former CPB members who worked on Domino’s account for more than six years. An AOR switch-up was one of the first big moves from Art D’Elia after his promotion to Domino’s chief marketing officer last August.

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