Dunkin' Donuts jabs rival Starbucks in humorous TV ads

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Armed with a new java entry, Dunkin' Donuts pokes fun at upscale rival Starbucks Coffee Co. in a new TV commercial.

The new product, a darker coffee called Cafe Blend, is part of the doughnut chain's bid to draw in new customers who thrive on stronger, trendier brews than the milder Original Blend the company has sold since 1950.

Dark-roast coffees until now have been available only at Starbucks and the numerous other coffee houses that have cropped up in the past few years to grab a piece of the estimated $55 billion U.S. restaurant coffee business.

Eddie Binder, VP-marketing, Dunkin' Donuts, said the company's research revealed that it was missing customers who liked doughnuts, but couldn't find the coffee they wanted at the chain.

"We didn't have the product that these people wanted," he said.

IRONIC TWIST

Perhaps in an ironic twist, Starbucks in September introduced a new line of lighter coffee, called Milder Dimensions, aimed at customers who don't like strong roasts.

Dunkin' Donuts will spend about $5 million backing Cafe Blend. The 30-second commercial, from Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, will run on spot TV through November in all of the 3,400-unit chain's markets.

The spot features an obnoxious counterman who wears a Starbucks green apron and makes customers feel like idiots. "It's Sumatra, not Sumaytra," he chides one woman. "Your order bores me," he tells another, who ordered a plain old latte.

Customers take their revenge. They wait for the guy to leave the cafe, and thrust in his face their weapon: a cup of Cafe Blend from Dunkin' Donuts. "We're through with you," they tell him. The tagline: "A bold rich roast without all the bitterness."

STARBUCKS AN EASY TARGET

Starbucks' rapid growth and infiltration into American culture has made it an easy target for humor, said Neil Stern, partner with McMillan Doolittle, Chicago, a retail consultancy. "It stands for being upscale and haughty, and people make fun of how you have to order," he said.

A Starbucks spokesman said the chain does not comment on advertising or promotions from other companies.

Mr. Binder said the new coffee will be priced the same as Original Blend, and at lower prices than Starbucks coffees. Suggested prices are $1 for a 10-ounce cup; $1.15 to $1.20 for a 14-ounce cup; and $1.25 to $1.30 for a 20-ounce cup.

He said Dunkin' Donuts, a value-oriented chain with a working-person's persona, won't grab all Starbucks customers.

"The dyed in the wool heavy Starbucks user is not going to come to Dunkin'," he said.

Copyright October 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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