Time to take out the donuts.
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.
Dunkin’ Donuts — as it is known for now — is one of many companies to declare a new name as part of a broader rebranding strategy.
Just this week, Weight Watchers announced that it was now “WW.” It is an attempt to emphasize a focus on wellness instead of weight loss, with the tagline, “Wellness that works.”
In 2016, Tribune Publishing — which owns The Chicago Tribune and other newspapers — became Tronc, to widespread ridicule.
IHOP even used a name change as a marketing gimmick this summer, when it temporarily changed its name to IHOb, for “International House of Burgers.”
“Sometimes companies change their names because the name limits them in the business that they’re in,” said Nik Contis, a senior partner at PS212, an agency that specializes in brand naming and helped Coach Inc. rename itself Tapestry. “Sometimes it’s a message to the Street that the company is taking a new direction. Most of the time, it’s either due to a merger, an acquisition or a spinoff.”
On Tuesday, for instance, Michael Kors announced that it would rename itself Capri Holdings Limited after its deal for the Italian fashion house Versace is completed.
But such shifts come with risks. David B. Srere, co-chief executive and chief strategy officer at Siegel+Gale, a brand consultancy, says he advises clients “to do everything they can do first before they change their name” to avoid losing any familiarity and emotional connection with consumers. He was skeptical about Dunkin’ and WW.
“I’d like to know what a ‘Dunkin’ is — what does it mean?” Mr. Srere said. “Dunkin’ is a verb, if anything, so it’s a clarity issue for me. And the same thing for WW — I don’t know what that is. The only WW that I know is World War or a website that forgot their third W.”
Dunkin’ Donuts got its name in 1950, when its founder renamed his original shop, which was known as Open Kettle. As of last year, the United States had over 9,000 Dunkin’ Donuts locations.
The company tested the new name over the past year and the response has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Tony Weisman, chief marketing officer of Dunkin’ Donuts in the United States, said on a call with reporters.
He said the relationship the company had built with customers was similar to the kind that people have with their friends, where they also use first names.
David Hoffmann, chief executive of Dunkin’ Brands, emphasized that the shift was about the chain’s broader growth strategy to sell beverages — primarily coffee — to people on the go. He called the move “a significant milestone” in that journey.
Like Mr. Srere, Mr. Contis was critical of Weight Watchers’ new name, noting that saying “W” out loud twice was a “linguistic mouthful.” But he was more optimistic about Dunkin’.
“There’s kind of a humanness to it and opens it up to not just being about doughnuts and probably not just about coffee,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with Dunkin’ meaning more than just dunking into a cup of coffee, any more than I’d have a problem with Crate & Barrel selling things that aren’t crates and barrels.”