A Dunkin’ official told a room full of academics that the company strives to market itself as apolitical — and a tweet about that seemed to resonate with many.
“We are not Starbucks, we aren’t political — we aren’t gonna put stuff on our cups to start conversations,” said Drayton Martin, the vice president of Dunkin’ brand stewardship, according to a tweet from Alexandra J. Roberts, an associate professor at University of New Hampshire School of Law. “We don’t want to engage you in political conversation, we want to get you in and out of our store in seconds. It’s donuts and ice cream — just be happy.”
"we are not starbucks, we aren't political-- we aren't gonna put stuff on our cups to start conversations. we don't want to engage you in political conversation, we want to get you in & out of our store in seconds. it's donuts & ice cream-- just be happy."#dunkin #inta2019— alexandra j. roberts (@lexlanham) May 20, 2019
The tweet got hundreds of likes shortly after it was posted late Monday afternoon and had more than 3,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.
In a statement to the Globe, Dunkin’ officials seemed to stand behind the sentiment.
“For nearly 70 years, Dunkin’ has been a daily ritual for millions of people and we are proud to keep America running,” the statement said. “Dunkin’ is committed to creating a welcoming environment for people who bring different perspectives, and regardless of your views we can all agree that everyone deserves great coffee, fast.”
“It was really surprising to me, frankly,” Roberts said of her tweet’s reach during an interview with the Globe on Tuesday. “I wouldn’t have expected a message about a brand choosing to be apolitical to be perceived as so political.”
Yet in an era where partisan politics seem to have influenced all parts of life, many seemed to celebrate the branding decision.
Non-Political Coffee Shop! I’m in!!— Bill Anderson (@billdozer9833) May 21, 2019
Dude, when I am at a DD around 730 on a Saturday morning I don't want to think about politics. I have a hard enough time trying to figure out what doughnuts to get.— Cory Lewellen (@cory_lewellen) May 21, 2019
Respekt. Just give me my coffee and donuts..— bsudah, cigar and whiskey consumer extraordinaire (@bsudah) May 20, 2019
At last! Non self-righteous coffee.— Andy Marino (@trulyandymarino) May 20, 2019
Finally a company with a head on their shoulders!— Mary Ann (@mavola1) May 21, 2019
“But I need my coffee to tell me what to think!”, said nobody.— Garry Baskin (@luvbndad) May 21, 2019
Martin’s comments came during a luncheon at the International Trademark Association’s annual conference in Boston on Monday. Although thousands of people attend the conference, Roberts said, the luncheon was closed to everyone except for academics. She put the number of people in the room at around 30.
The three-person Dunkin’ panel spoke about “the big picture of their brand identity — who are we, what’s our main message, what’s something a lot of people can relate to,” Roberts said.
The officials particularly dove into the company’s rebranding from Dunkin’ Donuts to Dunkin’ and spoke about how franchisees of the Massachusetts-based chain try to get customers in and out the door in about 80 seconds.
here, we're addicted. US speed of service is 80 seconds. we make our money on coffee. in other countries, it's an afternoon treat when you have an hour to take a break. donuts lead outside the US & the model doesn't always translate given cultural differences.#inta2019 #dunkin— alexandra j. roberts (@lexlanham) May 20, 2019
starbucks owns 70% of the espresso market in the US. & they charge like they own 70% of the espresso market! younger customers are choosing espresso drinks more. we compete in this market but use our strong brand indicators to reinforce identity.#inta2019 #dunkin— alexandra j. roberts (@lexlanham) May 20, 2019
“They were talking about what people come to them for, and how people understand them, and what are the consistent drivers that will bring people in, which ultimately brought them to that idea,” Roberts said. “It’s really about the product, having really good coffee. . . and to get people in and out in less than a minute and a half.”
That led into Martin’s comment about shying away from any political statements, Roberts said.
“They were essentially saying, ‘We don’t want Trump to talk about this, we don’t want to be controversial, we don’t want anything to lead to a boycott,’ because we live in a moment where people are setting things on fire and making big statements,” Roberts said, using Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, and Nike as examples.
“They were saying, ‘We don’t take ourselves too seriously, we like to have fun and be whimsical with the brand. We’re not trying to get into that political debate.’ ”
Roberts said that she will probably use what she learned at the luncheon in her classroom at UNH.
“At the end of the day, these are both strategic [marketing] decisions,” she said. “When Dunkin’ chooses to say we are apolitical, they do that because it will sell the most product. When Starbucks chooses to say ‘we do things that are better aligned with our values,’ they do that because they think that will help sell more product.”
Starbucks has, indeed, made waves over the years by taking strong positions on progressive political issues: The company and its leaders have supported same-sex marriage, discouraged guns from being brought into its stores, been vocal about its health care benefits for workers, closed 8,000 stores for sensitivity training, and adopted a more inclusive Christmastime cup decor.