Dunkin' CMO explains the chain's controversial decision to slash 'Donuts' from its name

dunkin store of the future 2810Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

  • Dunkin' Brands' decision late in 2018 to drop the "Donuts" from its name sparked backlash and controversy.
  • However, CMO Tony Weisman told Business Insider there was no question that the change was the correct business decision.
  • Weisman says Dunkin' spoke with Robert Rosenberg, an ex-CEO and the son of the chain's founder, before making the change. 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 that the name swap and other adjustments have already helped Dunkin's reputation and its battle to win over younger customers.
  • "Any sort of company transforming itself to recognize the current consumer needs creates anxiety," Weisman said. "New England has a longer history than most of 'We like it the way it was.'"
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Dunkin' Donuts transformation to just Dunkin' has sparked massive controversy over the last year.

Social media exploded when the news of the name change was announced in September 2018. New Englanders fretted that the chain was abandoning its roots. Boston magazine even ran an article with the headline "Donut Break Our Hearts, Dunkin."

Read more: Dunkin' Donuts is officially dropping the 'Donuts' from its name despite earlier backlash

However, there was no doubt at headquarters that slashing the "Donuts" was the right choice, according to Dunkin' CMO Tony Weisman.

"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 and modernize the logo, producing mockups that Weisman says "didn't feel right." The company had been considering a thinner, angled logo, ditching its recognizable round and puffy pink-and-orange font.

"This is an own-able font," Weisman said of his decision to scrap the proposed modernized logo. "This is recognizable Dunkin' - you can't get rid of that."

Instead, Dunkin' worked with 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 the iconic pink-and-orange color scheme, but simplified the logo. Then, there was the biggest change - dropping the "Donuts."

Read more: 'You carve out lanes of responsibility': How Dunkin' gets its agency, consulting and tech partners to work together

Ditchin' Dunkin'

dunkin 2728Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

Weisman said that ditching the "Donuts" 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 dropping the "Donuts," Weisman reached out to Robert Rosenberg, who served as the CEO of the company from 1963 to 1998 and is also the son of Dunkin' founder William Rosenberg. Rosenberg immediately gave his blessing and apparently even told Weisman that he considered changing the name himself in the early 1990s.

Despite Rosenberg's stamp of approval, not everyone was excited about a "Donuts"-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 'Donuts' 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 recognize 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'

dunkin media day 2018 2747Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

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

Read more: Chick-fil-A leads the pack as teens' favorite restaurant chain in America

Weisman attributes Dunkin's 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.

Read more: The breakfast wars are heating up as chains like Panera and Burger King double down. Here's why executives say it is becoming the most important meal of the day.

"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 everyday."

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 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. ... I've always found that to be a little dramatic."

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