Dunkin’ Donuts is a beloved treat or everyday fix for many. In efforts to keep up with the times, the 70-year-old company is moving forward by ” from its name and plans to emphasize its coffee and healthier or at least less sugary edibles. While the company took pains to say it would still sell donuts, the loss of donuts in the name does provide some trademark food for thought.
Dollars to donuts?
The company has used the spelling “donuts” for the last 50 years, instead of the traditional spelling of doughnut. Some critics wondered why the company would want to give up that highly identifiable trademark, leaving others to appropriate (and dilute) donut to the point where Merriam-Webster now lists it as a less common spelling of doughnut. Even spell check does not correct it.
This is all a cautionary reminder to those who own trademarks. If trademark holder does not protect them, the rights could slip away. The question is: Does this matter to a trademark holder?
Are donuts what they are?
When a person or business initially registers a trademark, it is ostensibly to protect a product. However, changes with companies and consumers can move the trademark in a different direction than was initially intended, such as emphasizing coffee over donuts, or selling breakfast sandwiches using bagels. Fifty years ago, no one was thinking about the nutrition information the company provides, nor were they likely aware that turkey sausage could be made and consumed, as it is now at Dunkin’.
Will the brand update transition go smoothly?
The company is currently enjoying a bundle of free advertising because of the name switch. Will longtime customers still go there for glazed donuts? Probably. However, there are other changes in branding and marketing afoot for Dunkin’ too. The rollout includes campaigns on social media as well as updates to the brick and mortar stores. It plans to change “Dunkin'” to “DNKN” (in the same recognizable shade of orange) for certain products.
Not every rebranding works (Remember Coke’s attempt to update their cola formula?), but companies need to stay relevant to grow. Regardless of the reason, businesses serve their own best interests if they carefully build and protect trademarks. Attorneys can provide useful strategies for doing this. They can also help companies consolidate and expand the brand as needed in these changing times.