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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Of Pizza and "Puffery"

Have you seen Domino's TV ads trumpeting Papa John's statement in a court case that its claims to having "better ingredients" and "better pizza" are mere "puffery"? According to the ad, "puffery" is a legal term meaning an exaggerated statement of opinion, not fact.
I wondered what this was all about, so out of curiosity, I got a copy of the court decision that the ad is talking about. Having read it, a few things strike me as funny about Domino's ad. The first, of course, is simply the idea of arguing about whether Domino's or Papa John's makes better pizza. To me, that's like arguing about where you'd rather go for a beach getaway in January, Rochester or Buffalo.
But to get back to the court decision - the first thing I noticed is that it was written in 2000, by a federal appeals court in New Orleans. Why is Domino's bringing this up ten years later?
Another curious thing is that Domino's wasn't a party to that lawsuit. It was Pizza Hut that sued Papa John's, alleging that Papa John's claims to "better" ingredients and pizza were false advertising. Domino's is only mentioned once in a footnote, where the court points out that a lot of national pizza chains have made claims to being "better" or the "best" in some way, like Domino's slogan, "Nobody Delivers Better." The court's point, essentially, was that they all do it, and that it's all equally b.s.
Third, what Papa John's actually argued in that case, and what the court held, was that the “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza." slogan was not an "objectifiable statement of fact upon which consumers would be justified in relying," and, therefore, wasn't false advertising. In other words, Papa John's didn't say the slogan was false, only that it's the kind of statement that can't be proven or disproven. So I think Domino's ads are a little misleading by suggesting that Papa John's somehow admitted that its "better" claims were untrue.
Finally, one irony is that Papa John's actually won the lawsuit. The court did rule that when combined with its ad campaigns touting its use of "fresh pack" tomatoes, fresh dough, and filtered water, as opposed to Pizza Hut's use of reconsituted tomato paste, frozen dough, and tap water, Papa John's "better" ads were misleading, because the evidence showed that there was nothing objectifiably "better" about those particular ingredients (interestingly, the court noted that though consumers expressed a preference for fresh dough, in blind taste tests they couldn't distinguish between pizzas made with fresh or frozen dough). But Pizza Hut lost the case anyway, because there was no evidence that consumers' purchasing decisions were actually affected by those ads.
The bottom line is that all these chains' ads, telling you how good their pizza is, are, as the court put it, the kind of boastful, vague statements "upon which no reasonable buyer would be justified in relying." Amen.

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