Peer Review: Mission Possible

The uniformly strange thing about coffee brands (liquor ones, too) is that, much as consumers love to talk about taste, the buying agenda is often the effect they have. It only follows that marketing helps us maintain our denial, even though there’s little real shame associated with admitting that you need your java fix every day. Shattering this curious dualism is Dunkin’ Donuts’ new campaign, “You Kin’ Do It,” which pretty much says what we all know: Sure, taste is great, but if you drink up, you’ll get that kick you need. The spots don’t mention caffeine, but they don’t have to; we all know what’s going on. So does Eric Zeitoun, president of brand consultancy Dragon Rouge USA, whose review of the campaign follows below. Zeitoun credits Dunkin’ for a goodly amount of brand alchemy. The spots aren’t just a plug for coffee, but a parable of our uncertain times.

Even iconic brands have to fight the ongoing battle to sustain that elusive but imperative thing known as relevance. How to do that is, of course, another matter. Smarter brands learn how to continually respond to zeitgeist—the social and cultural spirit of the times we live in. Perhaps that’s all a bit high-minded when you’re just serving a cup of coffee, but with the launch of its “You Kin’ Do It” campaign, Dunkin’ Donuts proves that it can respond with the best of them.

The campaign, developed by Boston-based Hill, Holliday, hinges on three TV and radio spots that all work off the same theme: Everyday people facing Herculean tasks rendered possible (even pleasant) courtesy of a big, steaming cup of… well, you can guess. From the hapless man facing six feet of snow with only his shovel, to an administrative assistant buried alive in enough paperwork to rival the Pentagon, no task is insurmountable so long as some freshly brewed Dunkin’ is at hand.

Simple as the theme may be, the campaign’s brilliance rests on its ability to tap into macro and micro trends simultaneously. With protagonists such as a mother wrestling a four-child stroller, to a father who must assemble an entire swing set for his kids by sundown, everyone we see here is completely overwhelmed. On a macro level, these scenes speak to the sense of exhaustion that has increasingly pervaded modern life. But the campaign also speaks to circumstances that have only recently come to the forefront of our lives: namely, the need to rebuild America and restore order to a world that’s spun out of control. Within these ads, the chaos portrayed in the everyday lives of ordinary Americans reflects the broader chaos facing America at large.


Like our newly elected president, Dunkin’ seems to have taken a grass-roots approach to the concept of hope and attached it to a simple truth at the core of American values: the need for self-determination. While President Obama encourages all Americans to accept a new “era of accountability,” Dunkin’ Donuts is busy—if only subconsciously—encouraging Americans to embrace this challenge by helpfully providing the fuel. (And let’s face it, while “freshly brewed” is a flavor signal, these spots are talking about caffeine.) Whether you’re ready for some added accountability or not, we’re reminded that we’re all in this together. Here’s a kick in your butt. Here’s a boost to your morale.

And, by the way, here’s a kick to Starbucks as well. When paychecks are shrinking (or disappearing), who can still afford a venti-mocha-soy-no-whip-latte at $4.50? Can’t do it. And, increasingly, the same thing goes for that Wendy’s triple stacker. Careful, fast-feeders, maybe America really does run on Dunkin’.

Of course, Dunkin’ Donuts is not the only brand to ride the tailwinds of Obama’s agenda for change. And, predictably, it’s one of many brands trying to sing the harmony to our personal anthems of endurance and hope for better times. Pepsi’s new campaign, for instance, is awash with political buzz words-“hurray,” “optimism,” and the like. But there’s a big difference between using buzz words and making your words buzz. Pepsi’s stuff is great at portraying a cool, fun, youthful existence—but there’s no call to action. The “You Kin’ Do It” spots, by contrast, not only dare to show us people in their 30s and 40s (imagine!), but those Americans rolling up their sleeves and tackling challenges head-on, just so long as the cup of coffee’s in easy reach.

Hats off to Dunkin’ for the clever substitution of part of its trademarked name for the auxiliary verb (“You can” becomes “You kin’—and it even works better phonetically.) For all the can-do, however, the campaign never shows our everyday heroes actually accomplishing their feats. But perhaps that’s the point. The focus here is not on results, but the state of mind that leads to them. And that’s where Dunkin’ Donuts truly hits the sweet spot—by striking just the right balance between attitude and outcome.

After all, in our age of uncertainty, not even our worthy elected officials can promise what will happen, or when. All we have is our determination—32 steaming ounces of it, at any rate.