Why Dunkin' Donuts Shouldn't Change Its Name

"Dunkin' Brands?" Donut Go There.

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Why Dunkin' Donuts Shouldn't Change Its Name

Keep your eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. — David Lynch

Apparently, Dunkin’ Donuts wants to drop “Donut” from its name.

According to CNBC:

Dunkin’ is thinking about dumping ‘Donuts’ from its name. A new location of the chain in Pasadena, California, will be simply called Dunkin’, a move that parent company Dunkin’ Brands calls a test. The Canton, Massachusetts-based company said Thursday that a few other stores will get the one-name treatment too.

In the classic style of Fifties runaway teens, the chain “has been referring to itself as ‘Dunkin’ since it began its ‘American Runs on Dunkin’’ advertising campaign more than a decade ago.”

“While we remain the number one retailer of donuts in the country, as part of our efforts to reinforce that Dunkin’ Donuts is a beverage-led brand and coffee leader, we will be testing signage in a few locations that refer to the brand simply as ‘Dunkin’,” the company told CNBC.

If this is a test, you failed it, compadre.

Renaming is a small part of a larger trend. In every industry, the Powers That Be are sanding down the rough edges of their companies. Day by day, rebranding by rebranding, modern business distances itself from its origins. Lucky Chemical Industrial Corp becomes Lucky Goldstar becomes LG, Matsushita Electric Corporation of America becomes Panasonic, Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation becomes Sony, United Telephone and Central Telephone and Carolina Telephone become Sprint. Bell Atlantic becomes Verizon. One Kenyan cellphone company began life as Kencell which became Celtel which became Zain Kenya.

FROM A DISTANCE

Renaming is about more than words. It throws light on how these companies see the world, how they do business. Ask yourself: Why would these firms try to escape their origins?

Because we live in an economy driven by the financial sector. In this world, companies aren’t tools for crafting goods and services; they’re simply places to store your cash. Profit used to be about making stuff. Now, it’s about mostly about pushing paper around. Rockefeller or Carnegie would be treated as extraterrestrials.

If your company doesn’t make anything, if your identity only resided in a name, then you might actually believe that names were magic, that a name alteration is all you need to change.

Renaming—”rebranding”—is not exactly dishonesty, but an awkward dressing-up. Why should Dunkin’ Donuts apologize for selling Donuts? Why should General Electric want to distance itself from what brought it power and wealth? The companies have not gotten the cultural memo: analog is back in. Americans are turning back into crafters, and people who work with their hands are celebrated. If AT&T knew what was hip, they’d rebrand themselves as the American Telephone and Telephone company again—and use the old font while they’re at it. To surrender what you have been mortgages what you will become, and that is hardly sound business. Too much abstraction results in vague, unformed thinking. No wonder so many of these companies sound the same, mouthing the same phrases:

Agathe Blanchon-Ehrsam, chief marketing officer of brand strategy firm Vivaldi, said Etsy shouldn’t invest in branded campaigns with large media buys. “Etsy should focus on its customer experience and in-product marketing that will create scalable interactions, drawing in new buyers and sellers through network effects,” she said.

Listen to that! In small business, actual nuts-and-bolts business, specific is the only elixir which works.

YOU ONLY GET WHAT YOU GIVE

There’s a reason nicknames aren’t self-applied. What you do is what you are, and American business has a strange love affair with removing every iota of the real world from its names. This is understandable: as mentioned, we live in an age when the money is in financial manipulation and greasing the wheels of investment, not in creating.

But the farther the companies of America get from the solid (occasionally sordid) circumstances of their birth, the more ridiculous and unnecessary they become. Everywhere you look, you can find a hundred examples of corporations that used to have a real, honest-to-God, on-the-ground business who have mutated themselves into weird, unearthly conglomerates with bizarre titles.

Sears used to sell goods to Americans; now they are a holding company which occasionally pushes objects through the mail and mostly through malls. Once upon a time, the Tribune Company produced newspapers; now their inheritor “Tronc” does something different. And with this new development, Dunkin’ is at a remove from its business, which is selling coffee and pastries to the public.

I understand that reinvention is the American credo, with an actual pedigree as far back as Washington and a fictional lineage which includes Jay Gatsby. But the purpose of reinvention—as with any renovation—is to expand, not to shrink, one’s possibilities. Distance from the world of doing and making and interaction narrows possibilities. When I see companies which are abstracted into vague generality, I think of those professional resumes which read “consultant” without any history of entry-level clerical work or manual labor. And I wonder: in an age which has shipped jobs overseas and outsources everything under the sun, how many unmoored, floating, rootless companies do we need?

I trust the name which belongs to a factory, or a bakery, or a shop: it tells me this company or this store knows its business and cares for it. If I have to choose between a company named “Baker Brands” and “June’s Bakery,” I will choose June every time. Baker Brands is a collection of money in an account, and that account could decide to run across the sea anytime. But June is June, and I know June cares about baking. If I am an investor, I would rather house my money with June: I trust her. Ask yourself, which sounds more appealing:

“Here at Mac’s Diner, we make food that people love.”

Or:

“Mac Brands is committed to innovating optimal consuming experiences.”

The first sounds human, the second is the overture to The Matrix.

It is well and good to be ambitious. But these brands belong to no one, and no place, and move around the market in a flurry of bustling, purposeless glory, consuming everything but changing nothing. We are what we do. We are what we provide, what we make. A company with “Brands” as its last name is in the business of making nothing; and nothing is exactly what we should feel for it.