Social Capital: How Dunkin’ Donuts Cornered The Influencer Market

Corporations and companies have lost several advertisement opportunities through the great online migration. Commercial spots on TV tend to only access a small number of individuals now that media is consumed through YouTube, social platforms, and streaming services. Billboards and bus stops get even less attention now that everyone is working from home or looking down at their phones. Now, companies have turned to the metaverse of online celebrities, recruiting them to retain relevance during turbulent times. Saweetie and Travis Scott have released their own McDonalds meals, and Lil Huddy and Nelly just released a signature Burger King meal too. But one early company to drive deep into the world of TikTok influencers was Dunkin’ Donuts.

The east coast coffee company is known for their signature drinks and early morning snacks. But in order to diversify their brand, they hired an army of TikTok influencers to promote the company and create new iconic drinks for their menu. While at first the promotional tool seemed like an exciting way for creators to make some extra money, Dunkin’ went ‘full send’ when they recruited the queen of the app herself, Charli D’Amelio. Since then, Dunkin’ has cornered the influencer market, producing drinks, creating content, and earning a viral reputation that has translated into real-world cash sales.

Into The Metaverse

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Dunkin’ Donuts was first founded in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1950. After several decades of success, the company was purchased by Baskin Robins holding company Allied Lyons in 1990. The company continued to grow to over 12,900 locations in 42 countries until in December of 2020, Inspire Brands purchased the conglomerate. Inspire Brands is known for their ability to brand franchises into their own unique images that attract and maintain their customer bases. They own Buffalo Wild Wings, which went through a social media surge and transitioned the company from a fast food establishment into a cultural meme. The company was also behind the decision to brand Sonic as a roller-skating retro restaurant dedicated to the drive-in. The company is also behind the branding of Arby’s, Jimmy Johns, Rusty Taco, and Mister Donut.

When the company acquired Dunkin’ Donuts, they applied their trademark marketing approach and made distinct changes to the company, including decisions like shortening the name to just Dunkin’. These branding decisions also resulted in the hiring of some of the top influencers in the world to attract a new base of customers, including the queen of TikTok herself, Charli D’Amelio.

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Dunkin’ D’Amelio

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Charli D’Amelio is known for having influence, power, and control over a vast amount of impressionable individuals. At just 17 years old, Charli was the first TikTok user to earn over 100 million followers on the app, a feat only achieved by two individuals overall, D’Amelio and Khabane lame. Acquiring D’Amelio didn’t come easy for Dunkin’. It’s estimated that D’Amelio makes $50,000 per TikTok post. But Dunkin’ was interested in more than just posts featuring the beverage. When they solidified their partnership, several agreements were carried out. D’Amelio not only posed with the drink, but created a TikTok-based commercial of herself ordering the product.

The company also had Charli create her own viral campaign under the hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest. But the collaborations didn’t stop there. Dunkin’ also named an iconic drink after her, and ‘The Charli’ became the official Gen-Z latte. Charli continues to post ads for the company through both her TikTok and her Instagram, receiving millions of likes on each post. But beyond the hype generated from her social media accounts, the clips and references resulted in real-world sales increases. Tubefilter estimates that Charli has sold hundreds of thousands of signature drinks, and also triggered a 57% spike in App downloads after posting content about the partnership and beverage. Dunkin’ also noted that the company saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brew coffees.

The New American Dream

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The company didn’t stop there. Dunkin’ started collaborating with a variety of TikTok influencers and content creators, ranging from the high profile influencers like Zachariah Porter and Snoop Dogg to the more undiscovered cult sensations like Sean Evans and Matty Benedetto. The company has picked up on the latest trends and desires of the younger generation and have learned to manipulate them into generating income. Part of the success system stems from the Hollywood approach of convincing impressionable young adults that they are just one viral clip away from being the next major public figure. The technique has tricked generations into committing to indefinite work under the hope they will be accepted and uplifted from their current situation into the highest echelons that society has to offer. But the truth remains, only a handful of people have been able to turn the app from a fun hobby into a full-time career, and even fewer have been able to cross the highly-coveted 100M-follower threshold. But despite the few numbers, the app presents fame like a lottery, waiting to reward dedicated individuals who keep posting and driving up the app’s overall traffic. The opportunity has attracted several brands and companies who want to sink their teeth into this young generation of constantly-creating influencers.

While companies have always utilized and capitalized off of the latest trends, whether that’s placing Kim Kardashian in a T-Mobile commercial, or utilizing product placement in some of the most popular films, innovative marketing strategies have defined culture and slyly snuck into the cracks of impressionable minds. This latest partnership between Dunkin’ and TikTok’s starlet Charli D’Amelio is no different. While Charli continues to dance her way into documentaries on Hulu and into Venture Capital projects, she will be supported by a solid, steady income provided by Dunkin’. And while she poses for pictures with her namesake drink, and while fans continue to order it feeling a little more like her each sip, the truth of the matter is that even after the deal was completed, Charli has still not yet purchased the drink by name. 

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Source: GQ, TubeFilter, Dexerto, CatCountry, TMZ, BusinessInsider, Amny, Digiday, TheSun, Yahoo, Adage, DunkinDonuts, IIDE, BoulderGroup, Today, Insider, SocialTracker, Distractify, RogueRocket, InTheKnow, Vox

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