Dunkin' Donuts is trying to energize its breakfast business and attract more afternoon snackers with an "America Runs on Dunkin'" advertising campaign coinciding with the brand's nationwide expansion.
Industry analysts say the campaign represents an attempt to put Dunkin' on better competitive footing against Starbucks without alienating Dunkin's working class, on-the-go customer base.
"They're sort of trying to tap into the same overall trends that Starbucks has done a fantastic job of exploiting the past 10 to 15 years, but doing it in a way that keeps their core customers," said David Henkes, of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based food industry consulting firm. "They're trying to move themselves as a little bit upscale and gourmet, but still positioning themselves as a convenient location to refuel or recharge."
Canton-based Dunkin' Donuts introduced its new campaign on Monday with a news release that called the broadcast, print and online spots "the most significant repositioning effort in the company's 55-year-history."
The ads show people of various walks of life going about their daily business, fueled by Dunkin' goodies. One TV spot takes the viewer past a father teaching his son to ride a bicycle, a mail carrier making her daily rounds, and movers carrying a couch up a set of stairs — all while carrying Dunkin' beverages.
The campaign features icons representing words in the tag line "America Runs on Dunkin'" - including a U.S. map and a figure of a running person.
The theme replaces a "Bring yourself back" tag line that accompanied recent Dunkin' ads.
Those spots largely highlighted recent additions to the chain's espresso-based beverages, iced drinks and sandwiches — offerings Dunkin' has relied on to draw customers in the afternoon and win over customers seeking gourmet coffee at a lower price than Starbucks.
The new ads seek to give Dunkin' a national identity, and reposition the brand as more than just a morning-only filling station, John Gilbert, Dunkin' Donuts vice president of marketing, said in an interview.
The chain remains close to its Massachusetts roots, with the vast majority of its 4,953 U.S. stores in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Dunkin' Donuts has another 1,814 international stores.
But the chain is entering new markets in the Midwest and South with plans to triple the number of stores over the next decade and move westward.
Starbucks has its own even more ambitious expansion plans. While the two chains are expected to increasingly battle for customers who don't necessarily fall into either rival's niche, the brands are likely to remain distinct — Starbucks with its upscale clientele prone to lingering over their coffee, and Dunkin' Donuts with its on-the-go customers seeking a no-frills approach.
"There probably are markets for both of us to grow," Gilbert said. "We're not about music and WiFi and couches and fireplaces."
John Owens, an analyst with Morningstar Inc., said both chains can grow without significantly eating into one another's business.
"There's still a lot of mom-and-pop chains out there for a sophisticated operator to steal share from," Owens said.
Gilbert said Dunkin's new ad campaign will run five to 10 years at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The campaign was devised by the Boston-based ad firm Hill, Holiday before the Dunkin' Donuts parent, Dunkin' Brands, was bought last month by a consortium of private-equity firms. Bain Capital, Thomas H. Lee Partners and The Carlyle Group acquired Dunkin' Brands from France's Pernod Ricard SA for $2.43 billion.
Dunkin' Donuts says it brought in $4.1 billion in revenue last fiscal year, with drinks accounting for 63 percent of sales and doughnuts 17 percent.