VIDEO: How Cinnabon Grew its Brand Without Advertising

Pumpkin Flavors and 'Flights of Bites' to Join the Menu

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Next month Cinnabon will begin testing a new higher-end chain, Bon Bake Shop by Cinnabon. But even if it's a success and expands, don't expect a big ad push.

That's because the Seattle-born bakery chain with more than 1,200 locations built its brand with little traditional advertising over the last 30 years. It has instead focused on social media, public relations and word-of-mouth marketing. In 2013, when Cinnabon opened 110 locations, it even sourced marketing ideas from consumers through a Facebook post: "Marketing ideas for Cinnabon? Go! ‪#‎fansourcing‬."

Last year, Cinnabon had more than $1 billion in retail product sales from all divisions worldwide, including franchising, consumer package goods and food-service licensed products. That's up from previous years, according to Fishman PR, which handles the brand.

Cinnabon's expansion ramped up 10 years ago when it was acquired by affiliates of Roark Capital Group to become part of Focus Brands, which also owns Carvel and Auntie Anne's. Around that time, the brand ventured into consumer packaged goods with partners like Pillsbury and Airwick. The licensed products helped Cinnabon reach beyond its traditional domain of malls and airports, and into grocery stores and homes. When Kat Cole, president of Cinnabon, took the reigns in 2011, the brand also built up its menu.

Here, Ad Age explores how the bakery chain became a global brand and what lies ahead with the help Cinnabon's VP of marketing, Kristen Hartman.

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