Slate's Ad Report Card: It's a Dunkin' Donut World

Slate contributor Seth Stevenson grades the new ad campaign from Dunkin' Donuts which promotes a world fueled by Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

How hard can it be to sell doughnuts? Well, maybe tougher than you think. With concerns about carbs and other health worries, advertisers are trying to sell you on the taste and make you forget the fat. Seth Stevenson, ad critic for the online magazine, Slate, has this look at how one of the biggest names in doughnuts is remaking its image.

SETH STEVENSON (Ad Critic, Slate magazine): Dunkin' Donuts is spreading its wings. The chain is expanding nationwide and it plans to triple in size within the next 10 years. A big part of the goal of its new ad campaign is to introduce the brand to Americans not yet familiar with it.

(Soundbite of television ad)

THEM MIGHT BE GIANTS: (singing) Things are what I like to do. Doing things is what I like to do.

Mr. STEVENSON: In one long take, the camera sneaks through the bustling center of a small town, catching various blue-collar types in the midst of their busy work days. House painters, furniture movers, postal workers, tow truck drivers, all of them are seen bopping around with various Dunkin' Donuts products in hand.

(Soundbite of television ad)

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (singing) I'm slightly more efficient than I previously was. Doing things is what I...

Mr. STEVENSON: Music by the way is by the nerd rockers, They Might be Giants.

(Soundbite of television ad)

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (singing) Doing things is what I like to do.

Mr. STEVENSON: The ad closes with a new slogan flashing on screen.

(Soundbite of television ad)

Unidentified Announcer: America runs on Dunkin'.

Mr. STEVENSON: To me, the iconic Dunkin' campaign will always be the one in which that sad-sack fellow with the mustache says, time to make the doughnuts.

But doughnuts are no longer Dunkin's bread and butter, or bread and lard as the case may be. Coffee is by far the chain's biggest seller now, which means that Dunkin' is competing less with Krispy Kreme than with Starbucks. Of course, it's not exactly competing with Starbucks either. The Starbucks consumer sees his latte as a gourmet indulgence. The Dunkin' guy uses a cup of Joe as necessary fuel.

The brand's relative price points reflect this, and so do their store interiors. Dunkin' Donuts head of marketing has said, we're not about music and wi-fi and couches and fireplaces. What they are about is low prices, quick service and unpretentious reliability. The challenge is conveying that without creating an image so boring and straightforward that it turns consumers off.

The gold standard for blue-collar cool of late has been Target, which managed to transform itself from schlocky to hip on the strength of a clever ad campaign. One of Target's tricks is that its ads don't show actual Target stores, with their aisles of garbage cans and discount dry goods. Instead, Target recontextualizes the products it sells inside a colorful, bouncy world of the campaign's own invention.

The Dunkin' Donuts campaign uses the same trick. It's suggested that a Dunkin' break helps average Americans power through their busy lives. But it doesn't show actual Dunkin' franchises. And the music creates an art sensibility, turning a spot into a sunny ode to caffeine addiction.

(Soundbite of television ad)

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (singing) I'm slightly more productive now than previous because, I'm slightly more efficient than I previously was. Doing things is what I like to do.

Mr. STEVENSON: They Might Be Giants are known for catchy hooks, quirky rhymes, and sometimes corny sensibility. Sounds just right for a career in jingle writing.

In the end, I give these ads an A. They're very watchable and I think the campaign nails the brand image Dunkin' is striving for. As for that new slogan…

(Soundbite of television ad)

Unidentified Announcer: America runs on Dunkin'.

Mr. STEVENSON: Given the calorie counts on some of those doughnuts and flavored coffee items, it might be more accurate to go with, America waddles on Dunkin'. But I guess that doesn't scan quite as well.

BRAND: Opinion from Seth Stevenson. He writes the Ad Report Card column for the online magazine, Slate, and you'll find a link to the Dunkin' Donuts ad at slate.com.

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