mobile pizza wars graphicWith most of the big Pizza chains in US ramping up their mobile activities (including recent announcements by Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s), a “wrap up” of sorts is clearly due – if only to try to sort out the litany of mobile offers, options and promotional tactics currently employed by the “big 3.”

“Mobile Ordering” options have dominated the field, either by SMS or via the mobile web. Unfortunately, both require the user to first register online before placing orders on their mobile devices – ultimately limiting the appeal of these services to the early adopter and extreme pizza loving niches.

It is not entirely clear why all three have chosen to handicap their mobile ordering services so severely, but no doubt security and (to a lesser extent) UI challenges remain at the core of their reasoning.

The pizza chains’ other mobile services, including SMS discount offers, SMS and WAP store locaters, and message-based sweepstakes programs all seem effective uses of the mobile channel, in that they seem to be adding real value to existing (non-mobile) ordering options.

A wrap-up of the “Big Three’s” current mobile initiatives is as follows:

  • Papa John’s. While Papa John’s has allowed ordering via SMS since November of last year, they have also begun to utilize SMS for promotional purposes as well. Their SMS ordering process is fairly intuitive: After first setting-up and configuring an online account, consumers can order any one of their preset “Favorites” by texting a “FAV” (ex “FAV1”, “FAV2”, etc) to 4PAPA (47272) and confirming their purchase by replying “Y” to the auto response msg. A Papa John’s store locater and an opt-in for discount offers are also available via SMS.

    Recently the chain also launched a mobile-centric promotion timed to coincide with 2008 NFL playoffs. The promotion, “TEXTra Points 4 Pizza“, ties mobile pizza discounts to the total scores of NFL playoff games (as well as the Superbowl itself), and works as follows: Fans first either text the keyword “POINTS” to 47272 (4PAPA) or register online. Then, during the wild card and divisional rounds, if the score of any playoff game totals 25 points or more, registered fans will receive a text message from Papa John’s with a promo code worth 25% off a medium pie. For conference championship day (Sunday, January 20) if either game’s score reaches a cumulative 50 points all registered fans will receive 50% discount… and if the cumulative score is 75 points or more on Superbowl Sunday, registered fans will receive a 75% discount via text message. All discount offers are redeemed online via coupon code entry.

  • Domino’s Pizza. Domino’s rolled out their “Order by SMS” in the UK August of 2007, and added mobile web ordering options in the US in October of that same year. Domino’s decided to set up a separate, consumer-facing URL for their mobile site (, rather than simply redirecting mobile users from the main site. That said, most mobile devices are redirected from the main website ( to the Domino’s WAP site anyway, although the iPhone does not (which is a good thing, as the iPhone renders the mobile site into an illegibly small half inch square in the upper left hand corner of the screen.). Unfortunately when tested the mobile site was plagued with errors, continually crashing upon login or when attempting to place an order. The mobile site also incorporates a store locater.
  • Pizza Hut. Launched on Monday of last week, Pizza Hut’s “Total Mobile Access” offers both SMS and WAP ordering options (both in the US). SMS ordering is fairly straightforward: consumers “text ‘O’ followed by a space and the name of your Playlist choice (ex: O FAV).” A consumer’s “Pizza Playlist Choices” can only be set by setting up an account on the PC version of

    For their mobile website, Pizza Hut chose to go with a unified URL approach, where all users – regardless of platform – navigate to the same URL (, with mobile users then being automatically redirected to the mobile version of the site. Overall, the mobile site rendered “well enough” in our testing on several handsets, although we would have liked to see an option to manually override the redirect and to go to the main (non-mobile) site – as the mobile version is not fully-functional (account settings, such as the delivery addresses and “Pizza Playlists” can only be edited on the “PC” version of the website). Even iPhone users, with their vaunted “desktop-grade” Safari browser, are redirected to the mobile version on the Pizza Hut site. Ultimately the decision to restrict mobile access to the main site was likely due to the latter’s reliance on flash elements and java scripting, the both of which cannot render and/or often crash most mobile browsers (including the Blackberry’s HTML browser… and yes, the iPhone).

Analysis: To use a well-worn phrase, nearly all of these offerings are far more evolutionary than revolutionary. While commendable in their attempts to tap into the “hot” new channel that is mobile, all of these programs remain tethered to the traditional (wireline) web. That said, most if not all represent a sold understanding of the benefits and limitations of US mobile marketing at its current stage of maturity, and show a refreshing move away from the “risk averse” stance of most brands – even those professing to be edgy and cool.

Of course, the 600 lb gorilla in the room is that it remains to be seen if consumers will find any of the above offerings “better” than the current mobile ordering process: Voice Dialing.

11 Responses to “US Pizza Wars Go Mobile: Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s Take to Channel”

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  2. #2 Jonathan says:

    I called Papa Johns to order a pizza. Why didn’t they ask me over the phone if I wanted to get setup for this. They were taking my CC and other info. They could have asked if this was my standard order.

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