Why Dunkin' Donuts' name change is worse than it sounds

Since the title introduces the topic well enough, I should start this article with some disclosure. I love Dunkin’ Donuts. I probably eat there once per week. I have their app loaded on my phone for remote ordering before you get to the store and it’s one of the best food service apps ever. I like most of their donuts and their breakfast sandwiches. The coffee is 2000% better than any of that burnt tasting stuff you get at Starbucks.

With that out of the way, you may have already heard that Dunkin’ Donuts will soon be no more. They’re not going out of business. They’re just changing their name by dropping the word “Donuts” from the label of the franchise. From here on, they will simply be… “Dunkin’.” (New York Times. Insert a long, heavy sigh here.)

Dunkin’ Donuts is removing “donuts” from its name starting next year, making it the latest in a string of companies aiming to breathe fresh life into their brands with a name change.

The company said on Tuesday that it would retain its colors and font but start going by Dunkin’ in January. The shift is a nod to the chain’s beverage sales, which account for about 60 percent of its business, and the popularity of its longtime slogan, “America Runs on Dunkin’.”

In explaining the change in a statement and on a call with reporters, the company said multiple times that it was “on a first-name basis” with consumers and that, despite its new moniker, its focus on doughnuts remained intact.

This is all too reminiscent of when Domino’s Pizza changed their name to Domino’s. It’s also just as pointless and probably just as bad of an idea. Domino’s at least had the excuse of pointing out that they serve a lot of other menu items aside from pizza, but let’s face it… pizza was their core brand and what people associated with the name. (I’ll refrain from commenting on the quality of the pizza today.)

Dunkin’ (as they are now going to be known) plans to expand some of their offerings, but they’re mostly doing it to focus more on beverages, primarily coffee. Both of these reasons fail the smell test. (They also released some nonsense about “being on a first name basis with their customers” which makes it sound like their chief marketing officer lives in one of those states that just legalized recreational pot.) In reverse order, I would urge the company to keep in mind that they don’t run a chain of coffee shops. They operate donut stores that also sell coffee. It’s great coffee, but you can get decent coffee in any number of places when you’re on the go. People come for the baked goods and breakfast sandwiches and wash them down with the coffee.

This just seems like an exercise in eviscerating your core brand. (Remember the debacle when IHOP became “IHOb” briefly?) And if they are “adding more menu options” they’re also heading in the wrong direction in that regard. There was a time when McDonald’s was losing money hand over fist because their menu was all over the place. Multiple salads, desserts, breakfast options and more. But when they switched their focus back to their core menu items which made them famous they became profitable again.

I don’t think the name change is going to kill them with their current customers. I know I’ll keep going there. But they’re also making their brand more ambiguous for the next generation coming along. If you’re driving past and see “Dunkin'” you may be thinking, isn’t dunking a verb? What are they dunking? But when you see donuts you’re ready to pull over, assuming you like donuts. (And this article is not intended for any of you communists who don’t like donuts.) I don’t know who cooked up this scheme, but it definitely could have used another pass.