Is Dunkin’ the New IHOB?
Name changes are perilous for big companies, and the lowest hanging fruit for business reporters looking to sound off. Ignoring whatever mirror I’m gazing into or avoiding, Dunkin’ ditching Donuts (in name only) seems like one of those reincarnations we may look back on with a laugh in future years. I’m skeptical the company can achieve its objective of being a beverage-focused brand with a lame new name.
The company’s sunny press release says this updated branding “is one more step in company’s journey to transform into beverage-led, on-the-go brand” and I get that. We all want that burning hot Starbucks cash.
Last night I caught an interview on NPR’s Marketplace where Kai Ryssdal spoke with Dunkin’ CEO Nigel Travis. Ryssdal delivered a solid interview that covered the new-found popularity of donuts, challenges of the restaurant business with such low unemployment and the company’s future with its truncated name.
Travis was surprisingly open about his Papa John’s days, back in 2007, when he went into a Dunkin’ store, wasn’t impressed and said he wouldn’t return. Now, he adds as CEO, he’s “kind of famed” for his frequent store visits.
Ryssdal asked if the brand is “almost cool and hip somehow,” and the CEO responded that the donut business is coming back strongly in recent years, which is obvious on the streets of any city. Remembering the 1990s where donuts were up there with butter in terms of existential danger to the human race, it is remarkable donuts have pulled off a complete about-face in the eyes of consumers.
But now—in this moment its presumably been waiting for—the company is taking the focus off of donuts, even though the stores will still be slinging just as many donuts. That seems like folding just when you’ve finally been dealt a winning hand.
“What about Starbucks!” hungry investors may shout, referencing the coffee giant that has avoided the laws of gravity for these last 47 years. It’s an enviable streak, but somehow, in some way, the Starbucks shine will tarnish or dull, and then it may look like Subway, which has far too many locations for the current sandwich landscape.
Bringing Dunkin’ up to the cachet of Starbucks is a very venti order that doesn’t seem possible without better coffee and an entirely different corporate image. A name change is no small potatoes, but they’re going to need more than sandwiches, espresso and classier cups to become an upscale cultural phenomenon.
There’s nothing to dunk without a donut, stretching brand imagery too far often fails and I’m hereby taking bets on when we see Dunkin’ seeing the light and bringing Donuts back to the marquee.