Inside the cult of Dunkin’

Heart-shaped donuts
Photo: Newsday LLC (Getty Images)

There are few forces in this world more powerful than a fandom. When its members turn out fully costumed and accessorized at a sports arena or at a con, the effect is dazzling. But even more powerful is the everyday sort of fandom, the kind where a person goes to a particular coffee shop as part of their daily routine and carries the cup as a sign of allegiance. In that respect, the Dunkin’ fandom reigns supreme.

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Sure, Starbucks has its devotees and its tasteful seasonal reusable mugs. But Dunkin’ offers a complete wardrobe. People have their weddings at Dunkin’. Dunkin’ devotees who find themselves in a part of the country where there is no Dunkin’ mourn it constantly. Starbucks cannot compare. The only food fandom that comes close is that of Diet Coke.

Refinery29 ventures into the cult of Dunkin’ and tries to figure out why its fans are so devoted. Objectively speaking, the doughnuts are just okay. The coffee only tastes good if you add lots of cream and sugar. But that doesn’t matter, reporter Angela Lashbrook concludes, because Dunkin’ devotees consider Dunkin’ an extension of themselves.

“Dunkin’ love has deep intergenerational roots that merge with its approachable, all-are-welcome branding to create a company with a firm foothold in the New England identity,” she writes. “This fandom... is similarly approachable, enthusiastic, oftentimes fun, and notably unaggressive. Rarely do they disparage Dunkin’ competitors, though they’re used to other coffee drinkers belittling Dunkin’.”

Dunkin’ definitely knows who its fans are and works to appeal to them. “Dunkin’ is a very much average American brand that tries to target and attract middle class, average Americans — hard-working, working class Americans,” Boston College marketing prof Nailya Ordabayeva told Lashbrook, “And their locations reflect that. If you look at the locations of Dunkin’, they’re much more likely to be located in less urban areas — a little more spread out across the geography in a certain state.”

Dunkin’ also keeps its prices low, which assures its devotees that they’re getting a good value, and it avoids the specialized coffee lingo that salt-of-the-earth New Englanders find annoying.

Dunkin’ is not, of course, a struggling small business. It has 12,871 locations and $287.4 million in revenue (as of 2019). But unlike Starbucks, it runs on a franchise model, which gives its workers more of a sense of ownership—and many of them are owned and operated by immigrants who are gaining a foothold in a new country.

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There’s also Ben Affleck, although how much you consider that a factor in Dunkin’s appeal depends on how you feel about Ben Affleck.

Anyway, it’s interesting (to me at least) to think about how companies brand themselves to appeal to certain markets, and Dunkin’ is certainly a master at that. Take a look.

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Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.

DISCUSSION

murrychang
Murry Chang

I remember when their doughnuts were made on prem daily, they were good back then for sure.

Their dark roast isn’t bad and their tater tots are tasty, beyond that they’re pretty meh.  People will ‘fandom’ anything it seems.