OPINION: Domino's Pizza is fixing potholes in the US - but could they handle SA?

Last month Domino’s Pizza made headlines in the US when it announced it was stepping in to repair potholes in towns across the country.

It sent out a call on its Facebook page for people to nominate towns in need of pothole repair. The trade-off was a simple marketing campaign. Each pothole repaired by the pizza company was sprayed with its logo and the words, “Oh yes, we did”.

CEO of Domino’s US said: “We don’t want to lose any great-tasting pizza to a pothole, ruining a wonderful meal.”

Since the campaign launch, the company has been flooded with requests. People have also raised questions about why a pizza chain is taking the initiative to fill potholes when road repairs are the responsibility of the government, paid for by taxes.

People believe the government is falling short of its responsibilities.

How I laughed when I read that. Welcome to our world, US.

This campaign illustrated two things for me.

First, we are not alone in dodging potholes and the fact that a country like the US is struggling to deal with potholes makes me feel a little better about our service delivery. But only a little better. Schadenfreude is short-lived.

Second, this is validation of a bigger business trend of companies aligning their brand with purpose and being more vocal about it, creating a more meaningful relationship with their customers rather than being solely fixated on the bottom line (not that the two aren’t intertwined).

It is the brave new world of “brand activism” in which more and more people expect corporate business to take equal responsibility with that of governments to push for positive change.

In South Africa this kind of pothole brand activism surfaced in 2010 when KFC donated R200 000 to fix Joburg’s potholes ahead of the World Cup.

The next year insurance company Dial Direct also stepped up to the plate and kick-started The Pothole Brigade initiative, a system that allowed motorists to report potholes.

Neither initiative touched sides.

With the news of Domino’s pothole campaign fresh on my radar, I departed for my midyear break and headed off to Mpumalanga – and a rude awakening.

To the doom and gloom brigade who say that South Africa is going downhill, I always counter that argument by pointing out the infrastructure in which we have invested in the past two decades.

Our national highways are pristine and this thought was validated while I sped along the N12 and N4 out of Gauteng.

But then I turned off on to the regional roads, the R36 and R533. To say I had a glimpse of a dystopian future would be dramatic.

Dramatic, but not unrealistic.

The potholes on these regional roads are no longer occasional but numerous and constant – and some are literally the size of satellite dishes.

Motorists are forced to weave like drunken drivers from one side of the road to the other to avoid them and the very real possibility of wheel damage and simultaneously putting their lives in danger.

I arrived at my destination just after sunset and was told by the staff to count myself lucky. Anyone arriving after dark inevitably has a flat tyre or a damaged wheel rim. I can believe it.

The entrance to Mashishing – the town between the R36 and R533 – is a T-junction that should really be navigated only with a 4x4. Other intersections in the town also can’t technically be counted as tarred. The number of freight trucks using regional roads – to avoid toll fees – make matters worse as these small-town roads aren’t meant to take their weight.

In the end I calculated that I was forced to navigate 140 potholed kilometres. If you take into account delayed journey times, as well as damage to vehicles, then the effect on productivity and our economy is not hard to equate. As a city dweller, outside of his urban (national highway) bubble, the reason we have violent, country-wide service delivery protests, daily, was shown in sharp relief. If I witnessed the exponential decline of my surrounds on a daily basis, with no remedial action or service delivery (but overwhelming evidence of taxpayers’ money being wasted or pocketed), I too would feel I had nothing to lose and protest. Violently.

On the (painfully slow) drive back home I did see a team repairing the road, but noticed that it was filling in potholes that had been previously repaired. The famous line “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” immediately sprang to mind.

That – and the depressing thought that even a global pizza company wouldn’t dare take on the challenge.

- Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com