Sunday, September 5, 2010

Frances Allen, Dunkin' Donuts

By Todd Wasserman on Mon Sep 14 2009

If you want to see how far Dunkin' Donuts has come, look no further than last year's presidential election, when candidates were tripping over one other to give a shout out to the brand.

It got so bad that some media outlets considered it newsworthy that the Obama Campaign's Dunkin' Donuts tab for the last three months of 2007 came to $352.69. Why did that matter? There was a debate brewing that Obama was a "Starbucks Democrat" while Hillary Clinton was a "Dunkin' Democrat." (Republican John McCain was cited as a Dunkin' fan as well—Dunkin' Donuts and Coke were said to be his dietary staples.)

Leave it to the Brits—specifically, Gerard Baker of the London Times—to finally put it all in perspective for us: "Mr. Obama's supporters are latte liberals," the columnist wrote. "These are the people for whom Starbucks, with its $5 cup of coffee and fancy bakers, is not just a consumer choice but a lifestyle. They not only have the money. They share the values." In contrast, Dunkin' Donut Democrats "do not have money to waste on multihypenated coffee drinks…They are the 75-cent coffee and doughnut crowd."

It all seemed to prove that to be down with real Americans these days, you had to prove how Dunkin' you were. (Never mind that Dunkin' Donuts has no stores in 16 states of our great land.)

Dunkin' Donuts, a 58-year-old chain that has about one-third as many outlets as Starbucks, didn't come by its workingman street cred by accident. In the 1980s, the brand's icon was a balding, mustachioed little man who rose at dawn and groaned, "Time to make the donuts." By 2006, the brand had introduced "America Runs on Dunkin'"—a tagline that stuck to the public's recession-addled consciousness like a warm cruller.

Bolstered by ads from Hill, Holliday showing Dunkin'-consuming people working their butts off, the claim has been a neat bit of counter-programming against Starbucks, which was waylaid by both the economy and its own overexpansion. As a result, the privately held Dunkin' (which happens to be in heavy expansion mode itself right now) boosted its sales by 6 percent last year, and although funding from the troubled lender CIT took some Dunkin' franchises out of the game, analysts say Dunkin' is making all the right moves. "They're a tough competitor," says Ron Paul, president and CEO of restaurant-chain tracker Technomic. "They've turned up the heat on Starbucks."

Credit for that goes to Frances Allen, the chain's brand marketing officer. Allen, a veteran of PepsiCo and Sony Ericsson who cut her teeth in the London ad scene in the '80s, joined Dunkin' in 2007. By that point, "American Runs on Dunkin'" had been running for about a year. Kevin Moehlenkamp, chief creative officer of Hill, Holliday, says Allen was smart enough to know not to mess with a good thing. Before that, Dunkin' had gone through a few taglines, most recently "Bring Yourself Back," which touted the restorative power of coffee. "A lot of times the CMO will come in and say 'I'm putting my stamp on this brand and I'm gonna change it,'" Moehlenkamp says. "But right away she came in and said, 'I love this brand and you've nailed the voice.'"

Which is not to say that Allen merely stood by and let the old message do its thing. Her job, she says, is to make sure that that brand insight is not lost and that the advertising not only stays true to theme, but also stays fresh. Hence an early 2009 ad push themed "You Kin' Do It" which was inspired less by the Obama campaign's "Yes we can" slogan than the fact that "Kin' Do" is embedded in the name Dunkin' Donuts.

Allen's rock-solid belief in the campaign goes hand in hand with her faith in research. The brand and the agency spent a lot of time identifying the "Dunkin' Tribe" as they call it. Intelligence gathering involved an utterly pitiless deprivation exercise in which regular Dunkin' drinkers were forced to go coffeeless over several days and then asked to discuss their feelings. "On the inside, they were very much defined by this mentality of what we call the 'blue-collar heart,'" says Moehlenkamp, who describes that as "the feeling that you're the guy who keeps American running and doesn't get a whole lot of credit even though everything else is kind of falling apart around you."

Sound familiar? Who over the past year or so hasn't felt that way as the economy flirted with a full-blown Depression and those who kept their jobs were largely expected to do more work and not complain about it? In a climate where public life ran on a mixture of fear and hope, Dunkin' coffee turned out to be the perfect elixir.

Mickey Drexler, J. Crew

By Becky Ebenkamp on Mon Sep 14 2009

"Marilyn Monroe wore khakis." So boasted a 1993 Gap campaign, which also name-dropped Amelia Earhart and Jack Kerouac as connoisseurs of the cool cloth. It's impressive when you have photographic evidence that a legend legitimized your style. But it's another thing entirely when you cast your clothing on the person truly of the moment.
For J. Crew's chairman/CEO Millard "Mickey" Drexler, that chance came on Oct. 27, 2008, when Michelle Obama showed up on Jay Leno wearing J. Crew—and talking the brand up, no less.

Could the story get better? Actually, yes. You see, Drexler was Gap's CEO/creative force during its boom period in the 1980s and '90s, only to be dumped after a two-year slump circa 2002. While he declined to be interviewed for this story, one doesn't need to be Carnac the Magnificent to posit that Drexler's J. Crew redo—and Gap's subsequent floundering—feels like karmic justice.

If so, it's all in a career's work for this merchant, marketer and fashion guru whose hands-on involvement is the stuff of legend. "He's known to visit his stores, review the products and talk randomly to customers," says Tom Julian, author of the Nordstrom Guide to Men's Style. Drexler, say observers, is driven by an insatiable need to be in the know. "He could have been a detective," says Bright IP Concepts CEO Jane Angelich, who worked with Drexler in his Gap days. "His eyes saw everything, everywhere. That's where his great ideas came from. He was always one step ahead of everyone."

Obviously, Drexler's leadership kept J. Crew one step ahead this past November, when it mattered most. Within hours of the future first lady telling Leno that her skirt, tank top and cardigan were all from J. Crew, the company had built a Web page to promote the three-piece ensemble, going so far as to buy the keywords "Michelle Obama" on Google and Yahoo. Even though the brand was careful not to alienate its Republican shoppers ("All politics aside," said the Web page, "this outfit gets our vote"), the link between president and brand had been made. "Michelle is a representative of the J. Crew brand—an affluent mother from the suburbs saddling the cosmopolitan life," Julian says. "[She wants to] look great in quality clothes but not overspend for couture."

In fact, under Drexler's auspices, J. Crew already was broadening its offerings to cater to the kind of modern, cultural crossovers that the Obamas have come to represent. In addition to the Crewcuts line for kids (sported by Sasha and Malia Obama during their father's inauguration), there's a designer line called the J. Crew Collection and an urban extension called MadeWell. The company has also grown its store count from 204 to 234 in the past year.

If expanding both offerings and locations doesn't quite sound like a recessionary tactic, that's because it isn't. But Drexler, on an August conference call to analysts, made no apologies: "You must maintain the integrity or there'll be no business left in 10 years because everyone could buy something cheaper." If Wall Street's soothsayers had doubts about this, J. Crew's numbers shut them up. Its second-quarter net income (up 3 percent to $18.6 million) beat Street estimates, and boosted shares by nearly 4 percent. Drexler explained that customers will pay full price when they like the clothes.

For Drexler, it all comes back to the clothes. Former J. Crew editorial producer Kate Bogli recalls how excited employees of the struggling brand were in 2003, when it was announced that Drexler was taking over.

"We had all followed closely what he had done with the Gap [and] seeing him in person sealed the deal," Bogli says. "With his perfectly washed jeans, classic white button-down and navy blazer, we knew this guy would 'get' J. Crew. He really had a vision for the brand and finally we felt we were headed in the right direction."

Six years down the road, it looks like Bogli (and Drexler) were right.