Why Dunkin' is running with a 16-year-old TikTok influencer
When Drayton Martin left her job as executive director at MullenLowe to join Dunkin’ Donuts in 2018 as VP of brand stewardship, she immediately lobbied to drop the second half of the brand's 68-year-old name. The switch took hold in January 2019, when the Dunkin’ name started to appear everywhere from cups and ads to store signs.
Now, Martin is focused on working with a 16-year-old influencer to bring the brand to TikTok, in no small part because the app’s biggest star, Charli D’Amelio, is a self-professed superfan of Dunkin’s cold brew. D’Amelio, for the uninitiated, boasts 87 million TikTok followers and counting.
Soon after Dunkin’ launched “The Charli” drink in early September, downloads of its app jumped 57 percent from the previous 90-day average, and the chain hit a new daily record for daily active app users.
That kind of growth is critical for Dunkin’ as it tries to win back customers who stayed home, and therefore away from the chain’s drive-thrus and counters, during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. In the second quarter, Dunkin’s U.S. same-store sales fell 18.7 percent.
Martin recently spoke with Ad Age about the power of TikTok as a cross-generational tastemaker, why it’s important for social influencers to actually care about the brands they’re hyping.
Why Charli D’Amelio?
Charli is a huge Dunkin’ fan. As far as the work itself goes, it is completely inspired by her. Our team and the BBDO team really spent a lot of time understanding how Charli thinks, the way she speaks, what motivates her and what inspires her. Overall, this campaign is really about shining the mirror back on her and what's natural about what she does, and also recognizing how much we value her—and her fans—and their enthusiasm for our brand.
How did the partnership come about?
Last November, one of my teenage sons came running down to me was like, “Mom, you have to sponsor this girl!” We got in touch and from there, our relationship with her started to grow. We sent her some holiday swag and started chatting back and forth.
Just what is The Charli?
It's a Dunkin’ Cold Brew made with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl. And we created a custom song that talks about the ingredients in “The Charli” that she engages with in her videos.
What results have you seen so far?
After day one, we saw a 20 percent increase in Cold Brew sales; the next day, it was a 45 percent increase, and that is just continuing to grow. There can be a stereotype of a certain person who is a Charli fan, but the reality is that Gen Z boasts men and women, people both younger and older. Parents find a way to connect with their kids through Charli. So, we're seeing a nice drive of sales with an interesting breadth of guests, which is terrific. And even in our app downloads—we had that 100-point incentive; we saw a 57 percent increase in app downloads on the first day.
What aspects of TikTok are attractive to marketers?
TikTok is real, it's raw, it's fun and it's genuine. There's just so much creative inspiration that unfolds on the app, and that helps us, for example, connect with a really, really important group of people who certainly enjoy coffee and breakfast sandwiches. We have a lot of incredibly passionate fans out there who are happy to shout out to us all the time, so being able to shine the spotlight back on them and learn from them has been really valuable. The app’s sense of community and discovery is paramount.
Besides “everyone,” which would be most brands’ ideal answer, who is your target audience? After all, TikTok is, for the most part, a young person’s game.
Who we hope to target hasn't changed, but who's coming into our restaurant has, right? I mean, we very much want to be a brand for all when we say “America Runs on Dunkin’.” The reality is, though, that you need to ensure that you're modern and relevant and interesting as a brand for younger generations to continue to sustain your success. Dunkin’ is not the brand you thought it was; we have grown up and we have evolved. With our partnership with Charli, recognizing her fame and her go-to drink is something that has inspired younger people for whom our brand didn’t cross their minds. Now, they’re coming in to give us a try.
The Brits have this term “pester power.” It's like, once your kids start talking about something, then it starts to cascade upward to other generations. If we have a group of people who may have opted for a different coffee brand previously, such as parents, well, now that their children are talking about Dunkin’, we're starting to see them come in too.