Dunkin’ CMO explains the chain’s controversial decision to slash ‘Doughnuts’ from its name

Dunkin Doughnuts’ dropped the ‘Doughnuts’ from its name last year. Business Insider/Jessica Tyler
  • Dunkin’ Brands’ decision late in 2018 to drop “Doughnuts” from the Dunkin’ Doughnuts name sparked a large backlash.
  • The company’s chief marketing officer, Tony Weisman, told Business Insider there was no question that the change was the correct business decision.
  • Weisman said Dunkin’ spoke with Robert Rosenberg, a son of the chain’s founder who once served as CEO of the company, before making the change. He said Rosenberg gave his blessing and said he had considered making the change himself in the early 1990s.
  • Weisman dismissed backlash as the work of a few “noisy” voices, saying the name swap and other adjustments had already helped the company’s reputation and its battle to win over younger customers.
  • “Any sort of company transforming itself to recognise the current consumer needs creates anxiety,” Weisman said. “New England has a longer history than most of, ‘We like it the way it was.'”
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The transformation of Dunkin’ Doughnuts to just Dunkin’ has sparked massive backlash over the past year.

Social media erupted when news of the name change was announced in September. New Englanders fretted that the chain was abandoning its roots. Boston magazine even ran an article with the headline “Doughnut Break Our Hearts, Dunkin.”

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Dunkin’ Doughnuts is officially dropping the ‘Doughnuts’ from its name despite earlier backlash

But there was no doubt at headquarters that slashing “Doughnuts” was the right choice, according to Tony Weisman, the company’s chief marketing officer.

“I wasn’t worried about the outcry,” Weisman recently told Business Insider. “We’d done the research. It was a handful of people who felt it was like too much change too fast.”

Weisman said that when he joined Dunkin’ in late 2017, the chain’s rebranding efforts were already underway. Dunkin’ had been working with various firms to try to modernise its logo, producing mockups that Weisman said “didn’t feel right.” The company had been considering a thinner, angled logo, ditching its recognisable round and puffy pink-and-orange font.

“This is an own-able font,” Weisman said of his decision to scrap the proposed modernised logo. “This is recognisable Dunkin’ – you can’t get rid of that.”

Instead, Dunkin’ worked with the design agency JRK, as well as BBDO New York and Arc Worldwide, to make other changes. The chain brightened up its packaging, ditching brown bags for white. Dunkin’ kept its pink-and-orange colour scheme but simplified the logo. Then, there was the biggest change: dropping the “Doughnuts.”

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Ditchin’ Dunkin’

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A revamped Dunkin’ store. Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Weisman said that ditching the Doughnuts was a natural choice, as the chain’s motto had been “America Runs on Dunkin'” for more than a decade. Dunkin’ is first and foremost a coffee chain, as opposed to a bakery, something that could easily be reflected by dropping the sweet treat from the brand’s name.

“I don’t think there’s any question that people love and sell doughnuts, but our future is in coffee and beverages,” Weisman said. “This allows us to lean into that.”

Before the name change, Weisman reached out to Robert Rosenberg, who served as CEO of the company from 1963 to 1998 and is also a son of William Rosenberg, the Dunkin’ founder. Weisman said Rosenberg immediately gave his blessing and even told him he had considered changing the name in the early 1990s.

Despite Rosenberg’s stamp of approval, not everyone was excited about a Doughnuts-free Dunkin’. Dunkin’ opened two next-generation stores, one in Pasadena, California, and one in Boston – the heart of Dunkin’ country. The Boston store’s arrival quickly sparked panic in the hearts of a vocal group of New Englanders. Social media exploded with concerns that Dunkin’ was changing, especially among the chain’s most loyal customers.

“We New Englanders are a loyal bunch, but a strong enough whiff of betrayal can snuff out the scent of a freshly baked Boston cream pie in no time,” Spencer Bull wrote in January in Boston magazine. “So, as the bright-pink ‘Doughnuts’ lettering falls from storefronts everywhere, and the Dunkin’ brand continues to spread west of the Mississippi, consider yourself on notice, DD: Your hometown is watching.”

Weisman said the apparent backlash was a case of “noisy people” getting attention, as tests saw a “virtually unanimous” positive response. In 2019, Weisman says, people are disturbed by any type of change and eager to share those feelings on social media.

“If you look at our country at large, the political anxiety we have is really just anxiety,” Weisman said. “Many people will say, the president was elected on the backs of income inequality and anxiety.”

“When people feel that way, they lash out and they get very uncomfortable, in a much less severe way,” he continued. “Any sort of company transforming itself to recognise the current consumer needs creates anxiety. New England has a longer history than most of ‘We like it the way it was.'”

The benefits of just Dunkin’

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Dunkin’ has been updating its espresso cups. Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Despite backlash, Weisman said he felt comfortable with the decision to roll out the new name in early 2019. In the weeks after the announcement, YouGov found more people reporting that they had recently heard positive things about Dunkin’. Dunkin’ climbed Piper Jaffray’s list of American teens’ favourite chains, a noteworthy success for a brand that has traditionally found it easier to win over older shoppers.

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Weisman attributes the success in winning over younger shoppers to the redesign and the chain’s evolving approach to beverages, including a growing emphasis on espresso. In late 2018, Dunkin’ launched revamped espresso recipes and cups; earlier in April, the chain debuted three new espresso drinks.

“I’m a guy who says I don’t like Starbucks – it’s Charbucks for me,” Weisman said. “But for many people, that richer, dark-roast, single-origin Guatemala is what they prefer. So, we changed the whole espresso mindset.”

If millennials and Gen Z want darker roast and more espresso-based drinks, Dunkin’ wants to become their chain of choice. The coffee business is booming, and Dunkin’ refuses to miss out on the next generation.

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“Two-thirds of Americans drink coffee every day,” Weisman said. “So other than toilet paper and toothpaste, I have yet to find anybody who can tell me something else that two-thirds of Americans every day.”

As Dunkin’ continues to evolve, it is also looking beyond its New England roots. Roughly 90% of all new stores are opening west of the Mississippi. While Weisman acknowledges many early West Coast adopters are New England transplants – name-checking the noted Dunkin’ lover Ben Affleck – he also wants to avoid portraying Dunkin’ as a New England brand.

“This is where Bostonians feel hurt,” Weisman said. “I think they feel a little bit like this was exclusively ours.” He added: “I’ve always found that to be a little dramatic.”