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Dunkin’ with Meaning

dunkin with meaning

Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of any marketing campaign that gives people the chance to squeeze their creative juices in and around a brand.  So it should be no surprise to hear that my favorite case study from the iMedia Brand Summit where I spoke this week was the “Create Dunkin’s Next Donut Contest.”  The case was presented by Cynthia Ashworth, Dunkin’ Donuts VP of Consumer Engagement (a title the audience loved).  It was obviously not the first “make your own product” contest, but the results show that people’s hunger to be creative and make a brand their own can never be satiated.

Business Challenge

In 2008, Dunkin’ Donuts saw the donut consumption rate among its core users drop.  The main cause was the concern about carbs and growth of the Atkins diet. Franchises were looking for help from the corporate brand to increase sales of this key profit and passion driver.  The company took several measures to improve, including various promotions and some new product launches, but a bigger marketing pop was required to jump-start sales.


Dunkin’ Donuts ran research with lapsed donut buyers.  They found that there were two key drivers of their love of donuts: (1) variety of choices and continuous new options, and (2) nostalgia for simpler times and basic pleasures.  The marketing team identified a “sweet spot” for its efforts to do something that rekindled these desires for variety and nostalgia.


The brand responded with “Create Dunkin’s Next Donunt,” a chance for the company’s core fans to have a hand in adding to the variety of the lineup, while triggering nostalgic memories of their first Dunkin’ Donuts experiences.  PR, TV, in-store, and out-of-home advertising drove fans to a very slick online donut creator developed by our WPP sister agency, Studiocom. Of course, the agency included a bevy of ways to share creations via social media. Many of the 12 finalists actually created and drove traffic to their own Facebook pages, which they used to solicit votes.

There were four key opportunities for press coverage and consumer engagement in the campaign: the contest announcement, the start of the contest, the vote for finalists, and the announcement of the winner. The winner turned out to be Jeff Hagar, with his creation, “Toffee for Your Coffee.”  Here’s a YouTube video from the brand that offers a great recap of the contest:


The contest was an unqualified success.  In terms of engagement, there were 129,000 entries and 174,000 votes, and people spent an average of nine minutes on the site.  There were 90 million national media impressions (a $10 million marketing value). An online media plan was cut after three days because traffic was already far ahead of expectations. Franchises chose to get very engaged in the program, and supported it with more contests and offers in store.

The business results followed this strong engagement. Dunkin’ Donuts enjoyed its highest sales since December 2007. According to Cynthia Ashworth:

“The sales volume was huge, and all of our donut metrics during this period were through the roof.  America’s in love with donuts again.”


In my book, I spend several pages writing about how brands can forge meaningful connections with customers by allowing them to be creative, personalize their brand experience, and share with others.  I talk about how brands such as Kroger, M&M’s, Jones Soda, LEGO, The Simpsons Movie, and Pringles have all seen strong marketing results from this way of meaningful engagement with customers.  The core reason for success again and again is that people are literally putting themselves into the brand when they have a chance to co-create. Instead of just leaving a dull “impression” with traditional, interruptive advertising, customers who co-create a brand build a deep link to the core of what makes them who they are.  And they often cannot resist sharing their creations–and a little piece of themselves–with the friends and family in their digital worlds.

5 Responses to “Dunkin’ with Meaning”

  1. Joanne Maly says:

    Bob, this is a helpful blog post today with a clear presentation of the Dunkin’ Donuts Case Study.

    Coincidentally, just yesterday, I attended a Cincinnati AMA meeting in which some representatives from Kroger and Brandstorm presented an excellent case study that mirrors the Dunkin’ Donuts success in driving loyal customers (and potential customers) to the company’s website. The Kroger online contest campaign centered around designing ‘your own’ Reusable Shopping Bag — online — at the Kroger site.

    I too have recently been inspired by Dunkin’ Donuts’ marketing efforts and posted a blog entry on the Simply Said blog that you might want to check out and see if it offers any inspiration.

    I will be visiting my favorite bookstore this week by the way to order your new book – “The Next Evolution of Marketing.”
    Thank you again.
    Joanne Maly, Lincoln Maly Marketing
    Cincinnati, Ohio

  2. Bob says:

    Thanks so much for the kind words, Joanne. Actually the case study you saw was something presented by one my top strategists, Michael Stich. I liked your post and just retweeted it.

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