Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Glazed Doughnut

ait a minute! Were those skid marks?

The food snobs (and some bloggers) already think that celebrity cook Rachael Ray is the anti-Christ. So why feed into that notion with a Dunkin’ Donuts spot in which she skids into a store on her tiny, high-heeled black boots (hooves?) as if by supernatural force, creating a wind tunnel and leaving black lines on the linoleum floor like some apparition in a Harry Potter movie? Plus, how creepy is it to open a fast-food spot with a shot of a dirty floor (that probably now smells like burning rubber)?

I might be overcaffeinated, so let’s back up and cool our heels for a minute. Launched about a year ago, “America runs on Dunkin’,” Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos’ repositioning of the venerable New England-based chain, has proven to be strategic and clever, as wacky musical executions deliciously articulate the unpretentious essence of the brand. (Reportedly, the songs are performed by They Might Be Giants, the band that also collaborated with the agency on the hilarious lyrics.)

One spot spoofs Starbucks’ home-grown culture of pretense as an array of customers stand at an unidentified cafe’s counter, ready to order and puzzling over such terms as “mucho” and “dieci” (the Starbucks’ names are “venti” and “grande,” which seem similarly random). They look over the board filled with caffe-latte-ish words, wondering whether the terms are French or Italian—”Fratalian”? It’s funny and observational, not a nasty attack on a coffee competitor. Another newer, non-musical but still pitch-perfect spot shows a guy walking through his office greeting colleagues and in return being called, among other names, “Floyd,” “Les” and “Jedediah.”

“Who knows you better than Dunkin’ Donuts?” John Goodman (who comes across as a salt-of-the-earth, good man) asks in the voiceover.

I also like the cool new iconic graphics of a map, a running man and the logo.

So in the midst of deftly developing Dunkin’s distinct, unique voice, why go astray and hire alterna-brand Ray? Perhaps five years ago she was known for offering food that, like Dunkin’s image, was quick and without pretense, but since then (and especially in the last year) she’s also developed an empire rivaling her TV talk show mentor, Oprah’s. In case you didn’t know, in addition to her recently renewed talk show, Ray’s written over 25 cookbooks, hosts two shows on the Food Network, is editor-in-chief of Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine and also has a line of, um, knives, bedding and cookware. (Knives and bedding don’t exactly go together as well as prosciutto wrapped around asparagus.)

Regardless, with all that marketing muscle, the sheer weight of her presence as endorser means that the two megabrands are inevitably colliding: DD and RR, battling it out for attention. In the case of this first 30-second Dunkin’ spot, “Unexpected”—she’s also doing radio, print, outdoor, online and in-store appearances—no one’s the winner.

I’m not sure what happened to the cool casting and fresh comic writing and direction of previous spots, because this one’s kind of stilted and painful. As mentioned, it opens on a young male staffer sweeping the floor. “What’s that?” he asks his colleague behind the counter about the marks. “‘That’ you’ll see,” the other guy says. Then we see the wind whipping papers and see the feet, and it’s Ray, hauling her heels in there. Counter guy greets her with, “Hey, Rachael, the usual?” She says yes and turns to the sweeper boy and asks, “Who’s that?” “It’s the new guy” she’s told, helpfully. “Hi, new guy!” she says, in her husky voice.

Am I missing something here? Is this what passes for dialogue? And the bit about the new guy, from why he’s not identified by name to why we should care about him, is never disclosed. We hear that the busiest woman in show biz—she’s identified on the voiceover only as “author and TV host”—comes in every day to take her coffee and bagel. She sips the coffee and emits one of her signature “mmms,” moving her mouth and her eyes in the exact same way she’s done thousands of times on her “$40 a day” show, whether she’s tasting hamburger, snails or a chocolate sundae.

(By the way, I know the whole point of that program is to demonstrate how to eat out on a low budget, but it always bothers me that our gustatory tour guide often ends up leaving a tip of, say, $1.46.)

The spot goes nowhere, except that we do get the benefit of Ray’s blinding smile. She departs and the counter guys are left to worship her steaming tracks.

While one of Ray’s best-known expressions is “Yumm-o,” we’re left feeling the spot is lame-o.