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The Power List
Jillian McVicar Nelson Dunkin Power List.png
“America Runs on Dunkin’,” as the chain’s longstanding tagline says, waking them up in the morning and helping them to power forward and achieve whatever their dreams might be.

Dunkin’ chief marketing officer Jillian McVicar Nelson highlights its fun image

Celebrity partnerships and engaging social media emphasize that the restaurant chain offers something for everyone

“We are the wingman for Americans. That’s the way I always like to position Dunkin’,” said Jillian McVicar Nelson, who has been the chain’s chief marketing officer since autumn of 2022. 

“America Runs on Dunkin’,” as the chain’s longstanding tagline says, waking them up in the morning and helping them to power forward and achieve whatever their dreams might be. 

“We’re a brand for everybody, and I think that’s one of the best parts of Dunkin’,” said Nelson, who has been with the company in various capacities for a dozen years. “[You] grow up getting Munchkins and then you graduate to a Refresher or a Coolatta and eventually you need that caffeine and you start buying your coffee from us every morning; Dunkin’ has something to offer everyone.”

But making the public aware of that is a challenging task in a world where people are pulled in so many different directions.

“Everyone’s attention is all over the place. People are distracted; it’s very hard for brands to break through and get creative message in front of the right audience,” she said.

Nelson and her team take a multipronged strategy to getting in front of consumers, including big plays that expose tens of millions of people to the brand, such as the star-studded Super Bowl ad that aired this year, as well as more targeted pushes to help keep the brand top-of-mind for different segments of the population.

One of those targeted approaches was responding to customers who enjoy shaking their iced beverages.

“It’s something we started seeing on social media first, which are always the more fun consumer insights to dive into,” Nelson said. “Our brand is proudly made to be shared on social media. People are always customizing their drinks. They love to show what they’re ordering.” 

And a lot of them shake their iced drinks, Dunkin’s team observed, maybe when they’re angry, or excited, or just when they want people to know that they’re coming. 

So Dunkin’s marketing team created a rhythmic 30-second video called “Do Your Thing” that showed regular people shaking their iced beverages to percussive music.

That was followed by a video that lifestyle celebrity Martha Stewart posted on Instagram explaining the etiquette for shaking iced drinks (essentially, shake as loudly as you want at lively social gatherings, but be more discreet in intimate settings). 

“Martha is sort of the queen of etiquette, so we thought it would be fun to put the natural consumer insight front and center,” Nelson said.

“We spend a lot of time trying to just understand people and how they want to interact with a brand like Dunkin’, whether it’s via menu, value, loyalty, creative — across the board we really try to understand what’s going to get them to come to Dunkin’ more often, or come to us for the first time.”

Nelson said the brand is lucky in that it has a huge fan base, some of whom are celebrities, “and wherever we can tap into that love and put it front-and-center, that’s the feeling we’re trying to evoke.”

She said that was the intention of this year’s Super Bowl ad, which showed Ben Affleck with Matt Damon and Tom Brady in a parody hiphop group called The DunKings failing to impress his wife Jennifer Lopez, while subtly displaying limited-time offers including skewered Munchkins doughnut holes and a promotional iced coffee flavor.

“We’re pink and orange, we’re a little rough around the edges sometimes, and we wanted to embrace that … through a variety of different, maybe non-traditional tactics,” Nelson said. 

She said the Super Bowl ad was intended to show just how much fun and joyful Dunkin’ is. 

“Dunkin’ is right there with Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, J. Lo, and Tom Brady as they’re having fun and enjoying themselves, and that’s what Dunkin’ is all about … you never want to force Dunkin’ into a relationship that doesn’t feel genuine and authentic.”

But Nelson also works with the digital analytics team at parent company Inspire Brands to understand better ways to reach Dunkin’s existing fan base and app users.

“We have the ability to read the impact [of different marketing approaches] and be a lot more surgical with who we’re targeting with what,” she said.

Given that a heavy Dunkin’ user might visit more than once a day, for example for a morning coffee followed by an afternoon snack, the chain of more than 13,000 locations worldwide has rich data.

“It’s probably a data scientist’s dream to see how people react,” she said. “If you are someone who comes every single day and only gets a coffee, how do I get you to attach a food item? … That has been one of the bigger shifts, too, from our marketing. We’re becoming a bit more personalized and really trying to change behaviors, as opposed to just using [the app] to discount. It’s really become more of a personalized experience, which I think is what consumers expect more than ever.”

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

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