Domino’s Pizza has a confession to make: the pizza it has been selling for decades sucks. If you ever thought that the crust tasted like cardboard, or that the sauce tasted like ketchup, Domino’s isn’t going to argue with you. It knows.

The pizza chain, which got a crash course in social media disaster management last year, has me thinking: is it ever a good idea to admit that you product sucks?

Chances are that if you run a business, you’ve received criticism from a customer. While the customer isn’t always right, many times the customer is, which is why successful businesses are generally those that take what their customers have to say seriously.

But how should companies address the worst customer criticism of all: your product just plain sucks?

With its new recipe, Domino’s has done what any smart business should do. It went back to the drawing board and made changes to the product in an effort to address customer complaints. When it comes to how it’s marketing those changes, however, Domino’s is, as AdAge’s Bob Garfield put it, admitting to its customers that it has been ”knowingly serving cardboard and ketchup for four decades.”

That’s not flattering and will hardly inspire customers to put their trust in the Domino’s brand going forward, even though Domino’s is trying to spin its new recipe as “50 years in the making“. It also devalues the product for customers who actually liked the old Domino’s product as is, cardboard and all.

From this perspective, Domino’s may have made a huge blunder. Sure, consumers often appreciate a brand that can poke fun of itself. But Domino’s is effectively engaging in the marketing equivalent of sadomasochism right now by essentially telling customers it has been selling horrible pizza to them.

In my opinion, a company that comes to the conclusion its product sucks should fix it and engage in positive marketing around the correction.We’ve been listening to you and your feedback has helped us build a better product” is appropriate. “You were right: our product has sucked all these years. But we finally got around to fixing it” isn’t. The former highlights that the company is responsive to customers and treats feedback as actionable; the latter sends the message that the company hasn’t never cared about quality, until now.

The interesting thing to me about this subject is that many consumers today are surprisingly accepting of imperfection. This is evident online, where alpha and beta products can build loyal userbases despite their frequent shortcomings. Why is that? The willingness of the company behind the product to make it better and to listen to users matters more than the current state of the product. Show your users that you care and are working to build a better product for them and they’ll reward you.

The lesson here for Domino’s, and other companies grappling with product quality issues: skip belated apologies because when it comes to communicating product-related messages to your customers, actions always speak louder than words.

Photo credit: Sebastian Mary via Flickr.