Mon, Sep 09, 2002 - Page 11 News List

Personality, pizzazz mixes with pizza

Entrepreneur and goofy frontman for Domino's Pizza in Taiwan, managing director Scott Oelkers talked with 'Taipei Times' staff reporter Joyce Huang last week about the company's business strategies and his unique experience as the star of the pizza company's well-known, pun-filled commercials

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Scott Oelkers, managing director of Taiwan's Domino's Pizza, mimes a phone conversation as he talks about the company's success in gaining market share and some of the ways Domino's is trying to appeal to Taiwanese dining styles.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF DOMINOS

Taipei Times: Most TV viewers in Taiwan know you best from the variety of humorous characters you portray in Domino's TV commercials. What motivated you to do the commercials yourself?

Scott Oelkers: When we first decided to begin television advertising, our ad agency presented a creative strategy that was largely based on Chinese puns, such as "KuaiLeSung vs. KuaiReSung", [or in English] The Happy Chorus vs Fast Hot Delivery. [Another was playing with the pronunciation of our phone number] "E-Ba-Ba-E-Wo-E-Wo-E," [or in English] Daddy's Hungry, I'm Hungry, I'm Hungry, or of course the [rhyme] "DaMeiLe, DaLeMei" [or in English] Domino's, have you called?

They suggested that these plays on words would be more effective if presented by a foreigner.

Only after agreeing to this concept -- and to a storyboard for the first commercial -- they asked if I would be willing to act in the commercial, and I agreed.

I enjoyed [doing] some of them more than others. Some were actually very difficult to film.

For instance, the Crouching Tiger commercial was a very difficult one to film while others were pretty easy and fun.

TT: What kind of customer response have you had to the ad strategy?

Oelkers: Despite a budget of about one-third of our major competitor, our brand awareness jumped from just 3 percent in early 1995 to 15 percent within six months of airing the ads.

This trend has continued and we now have the highest brand awareness in the industry, a solid 45 percent or more today.

When people think "delivery pizza," they think Domino's. Despite our competitors' efforts, people are more likely to know our phone number.

And, of course, the pun "DaMeiLe, DaLeMei" is one of the best know slogans in Taiwan.

TT: What kind of reactions do get you from people on the street in Taipei?

Oelkers: I can't walk down the street in Taiwan without hearing the words "DaMeiLe, DaLeMei" being spoken by someone I pass by.

I have had the songs from our commercials sung to me. Once when we aired a new commercial, just two days into the campaign, I was greeted with the theme song by the clerk at a convenience store.

People request autographs, and occasionally ask to have their picture taken with me. It is all in good fun, and typical of the friendly people of Taiwan.

TT: How did you get started as an entrepreneur in Taiwan?

Oelkers: I was the vice president of Domino's Pizza International, responsible for the Pacific Basin. One of my jobs was selling franchises.

After selling the rights for Taiwan to private equity firm ChinaVest, they asked me to come to Taipei to run the business on their behalf [in 1992]. Currently, Domino's has roughly 110 stores in Taiwan.

We're all over the island and in all major cities and counties. About half of our stores are in the Greater Taipei area.

I think, in the delivery segment, we've probably taken up about 55 to 60 percent of market share. In the carry-out segment, it's about 40 percent.

We're not in the dining segment, so we don't have any market share there. We'll probably grow by five to 10 stores per year over the next few years.

We are in a situation where customer demand needs to be increased before we're able to rapidly increase our store growth. Right now, about 75 percent of all Taiwanese can either carry out or order pizza delivery from one of our stores.

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