A Reminder To Stay Fresh From Dunkin’ Donuts Greatest Advertising Change-Up

Even the best-known brands undergo change. Nobody stays the same forever because market forces and customer preferences shift over time. Dunkin’ Donuts has been through it all, and with quite the growth curve from a local New England chain to a global presence. This is the short story of their two successive and massively successful marketing campaigns, “It’s time to make the donuts,” and “America runs on Dunkin.’”

When Dunkin’ initially focused on just donuts in the mid-60s, their main competition was the grocery store bakery. After some market research, they decided that their freshness was a marketable advantage. While the grocer might have baked goods on the shelf for a few days, Dunkin’ made their donuts fresh, twice daily. The “It’s time to make the donuts” campaign, featuring Fred the Baker, told the story perfectly.

After over 15 years the company decided it was time to reassess. Some new people at the firm pushed for some marketing analysis despite some resistance. The new research indicated that the donut was no longer the center of the customer’s attention, but coffee was. It was a revelation, but they embraced it. The company
retired Fred the Baker (which was a great campaign unto itself, just hard to find online), and launched “America runs on Dunkin.’” Coffee as the fuel for the entire country became another home run.

Here’s why this matters to all of us: nothing we do exists in a vacuum. Even when our business seemingly isn’t changing, the world around us and our customers’ preferences are. It may be glacial, but it’s always happening. Part of our job is to regularly measure and interpret what’s going on and know when to reposition accordingly.

The story we tell has to be in sync with the stories our customers want to tell. Just like Dunkin’ changed their focus and message once grocery store bakeries were no longer the obvious enemy, we need to be self-aware enough and ready to do the same. A great story with a great message are everything. Like the donuts and the coffee, the best way to keep it running is to keep it fresh.

Get these stories and a whole lot more from Christopher Lochhead’s Follow Your Different podcast interview with Robert Rosenberg.