Brow Beat

An Oral History of the Noid: a Tale of Pizza, Guns, and Madness

The Domino's noid in a 1980s ad. The noid is a tiny humanoid creature dressed in a red Spandex suit. It has a mask and red bunny ears that are also part of the suit. It has a human face with a big nose and wears white gloves. It stands over a Dominos Pizza box. A gloved human hand hovers off-screen at the top.
How one little gremlin went from famous to infamous.
Ernie Perich/Domino’s Pizza

In 1986, Domino’s Pizza unveiled a bold advertising mascot: a mischievous, rabbit-eared gremlin called the Noid. The character quickly became famous—he appeared on T-shirts, in video games, and even in a Michael Jackson video.

But through a bizarre series of unfortunate events, the Noid became infamous, too.

To tell the story of the Noid, Studio 360 (which, along with being a public radio show, is now a Slate podcast), gathered three people: Ernie Perich, who was the creative director behind The Noid campaign while at Group 243, a now-defunct advertising agency in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Tim McIntyre, the head of communications at Domino’s who has been with the company since before the Noid campaign launched; and Sean Burnsed, a former pizza-maker at Domino’s who, because of the Noid campaign, ended up finding himself in a life-or-death standoff.

A link to the audio version of the story follows this excerpt.

Ernie Perich: You know it’s 1980, ’84. It was kind of a grand time for advertising. Brooke Shields is doing the Calvin Klein ads, and the Energizer Bunny, and Wendy’s with “Where’s the beef.”

And Domino’s Pizza is essentially in a two-horse race then with Pizza Hut, which was the in-store dining place. [Domino’s needed to overcome the perception] that pizza that is going to be delivered is going to taste like cardboard, the cheese is going to be stuck to the top of the box, it’s going to be ice cold, it’s going to smell like cigarette smoke because the driver’s smoking in the car.

So what we really wanted to do was highlight that that product would be delivered hot and fresh, you know, in less than a half an hour. Guy by the name of Tom Masters came up with the idea, “Maybe we could come up with a bad guy?” I was like, “Wow, a bad guy.”

Part of the discussion was, we gotta name this thing, and the guys and gals at Domino’s called themselves “Dominoids.” And it was just kind of an internal thing. Matt Thornton was a writer, and Matt said, “Why don’t we call him ‘the Noid?’ ”

Tim McIntyre: Thirty-three years ago, I was a junior woodchuck at Domino’s: an editor in the communication department. The Noid wasn’t just a popular TV commercial. This thing was more successful than we had imagined.

We were getting letters, we were getting phone calls. Customers were going into our stores asking if there was Noid stuff available, and it really just became a groundswell. And the people who run our equipment and supply division started working with other vendors to create T-shirts, Gumby-like plastic collectible characters, games. There was a Noid video game.

Perich:  Essentially it just kind of caught fire a little bit.

McIntyre: Until, ultimately, a tragic event. There was a young man named Kenneth Lamar Noid, who from all accounts had some mental health issues. He must have heard “we’re avoiding the Noid” far too many times and he began to internalize that. And he came to believe that we were somehow targeting him individually for ridicule, and he needed a way to get back at us. And so he went into one of our stores.

Sean Burnsed: It was Domino’s Pizza on Buford Highway in Chamblee, Georgia. I think I was 21, it was in 1989. My job was to open the store, and Kenneth Lamar Noid came to the door. He was tall, I remember he’s probably 6-foot-1. I opened the door and went behind the counter to take his order.

And he immediately pulled out a gun …

To hear what happens next, listen to this episode of Studio 360 below, where host Kurt Andersen introduces the story at the top of the show, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts.

Studio 360 is a Peabody Award–winning show from Public Radio International.