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I’ve gotta tell ya – the current corp of Dunkin Donuts ads has me thinkin’ Dunkins in a whole ‘nother way. See, Dunkin Donuts and me, we go way back. I was a child of the 60s, growing up not five miles away from Bill Rosenberg’s original Dunkin Donuts shop in Quincy, Massachusetts. Those were the days when Dunkin Donuts coffee was an afterthought. Dunkin was all about the donuts – 56 varieties, exactly twice as many kinds as Howard Johnson’s had ice cream flavors. Back in those days, Rosenberg made two promises. The donuts were made fresh every four hours. And the coffee never sat for more than twenty minutes. There was one flavor of coffee, and you had your choice of black, regular or light, milk or cream, and one lump or two. Dunkins sold fruit punch as a concession to the kids, but the donuts took center stage.
Even in those early days, Dunkin Donuts established a reputation for quirky ad campaigns that stuck in your mind. Back then, the Dunkin ad campaigns reflected the company’s donut-centric culture. Fred the Baker, introduced in the 1980s for a national ad campaign, became a cultural icon. His trademark “Time to make the donuts” ranks right up there with “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” and “Where’s the beef?” as ad tag lines that took on a life outside the confines of the flickering box.
Fred the Baker was the face of Dunkin Donuts for over two decades, leaving some mighty big shoes to fill. When Dunkin Donuts went looking for a new face that fit its quirky, this-could-be-you image, it only made sense for them to turn to giants to fill those shoes. They Might Be Giants, that is. The quirky alt-goof music group was a natural to pick up exactly the image that Dunkins wants to portray. The new series of ads began in 2006, and is in its third round of original songs written just for the donut and coffee company. The focus these days is on the coffee – which is now available in a range of flavors, some permanent and some seasonal, and as espresso, cappucino and frozen drinks, and the ad campaigns focus on the coffee. In fact, unless you peer into the background of the television ads, you might not even realize that the company makes donuts.
The America Runs on Dunkins campaign is an unqualified success by any measure. The catchy tunes and songs have rapidly established themselves as cultural touchstones, becoming classics almost as soon as they’re released. In an homage of sorts, the ads have even spawned imitators in the energy drink field. So what is it that makes the America Runs on Dunkins campaign such a hit?
Personally, I think it’s the exact same thing that made “Time to make the donuts” a household watchword. Every single ad in the campaign has recognizable, likeable characters that are just off-center enough to be memorable in everyday situations that are exaggerated just enough to be humorous. There’s the harried chauffeur-mom on an endless run of dropping off the kids for ballet, soccer, oboe and karate (say it again), and the stressed office worker sneaking out of the office at lunch for a secret job interview, and the bewildered line of automatons staring at the “Fritalian” coffee menu at the local ‘we won’t name them’ coffee shop.
So which are the best America Runs on Dunkins ads? Ask the question and you’ll find that everyone has a favorite nominee. My own list of best of the best? Well, if we judge by the lines that stick in the head, they’d have to be “Perhaps Fritalian” and “Whose left shoe is this does anybody know?” er.. All Night Blowout.
Think you might have missed some of these new classics in the making? You’ll find links to all the videos in the America Runs on Dunkins campaign at This Might Be a Wiki, the They Might Be Giants unofficial wiki. Go on. Pay them a visit. You know you want to.