America Runs on Dunkin’, Not Donuts

By John Otterbein

08/15/2017

Dunkin’ Donuts, the beloved breakfast behemoth, recently announced plans to gradually phase out ‘Donuts’ from its name. The first official Dunkin’ location to venture out into the unknown without its Donut sidekick is located in Pasadena, CA, leading the charge for downsizing the brand’s excess dough.

Hundreds of other Dunkin’-sans-Donuts locations will then continue to spread throughout California during the remainder of the Summer and Fall, with a final decision to be made about the name change slated for later in 2018.

As a branding agency, this bold move kicked up a dialogue throughout our office pertaining to the implications the name-change has for the health of the brand. After all, the roots of Dunkin’ Donuts have burrowed so deep at this point, uprooting or disturbing them in any way could spell trouble.

Upon closer examination, cutting Donuts out of their brand equation isn’t as drastic or surprising as it first seems. The campaign “America Runs on Dunkin’” was the first clue hinting at the departure from Donuts as a brand centerfold. The tagline implies that America runs on the caffeine-boost Dunkin’ provides, not their sub-standard donuts (I’m still holding a grudge after sinking my teeth into a ‘jelly donut’ and getting nothing but the donut part in return).

There are other forces at play here besides aligning with their longest running campaign to-date, like the uprising of specialty donut shops all across the country. If you’ve been to Union Square Donuts in Somerville, MA or PVD Donuts in Providence, RI, then you probably don’t look at donuts the way you used to.

These aren’t your average donuts. These donuts have been hitting the weight-room, bench-pressing toothpicks with sugar-cubes stuck at the ends of them, carbo-loading for their big debut. These niche donut shops are changing traditional consumption patterns: now, donuts are more of a treat, an experience even, than an everyday breakfast choice. And when you combine this new way of devouring donuts with an increasingly health-conscious culture, Dunkin’s move away from doughnuts feels less like a risky move and more like an imperative.

This rename may come as a surprise to some, but the writing’s been on the wall for the better part of a decade now. According to a few marketing pundits, Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t just showing up fashionably late to the party, they’ve missed the party entirely. With Starbucks way out in front of the peloton, Dunkin’s move to be Dunkin’ may be too late for a last-ditch kick to close the gap. Only time will tell.