The big news about Dunkin’ Donuts’ decision to roll out its new “doughnut breakfast sandwich” nationwide starting June 7 is...there’s really no big news.
It’s a breakfast sandwich made from bacon and fried eggs wedged between (gasp!) two halves of a sliced glazed doughnut.
Here’s what the team of mad food scientists and social-media-savvy marketers over at Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. (parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts) wants to happen, which pretty much follows the fast-food playbook of the last few years:
They test market some crazy concoction at select locations that somehow represent a decent statistical cross-section of their key demographics.
In the age of Facebook and Twitter, of course, there’s no such thing as stealth test marketing anymore—iPhone images of said crazy concoction go viral, inspiring a response among the chain’s most ardent followers (the sort of mysterious people who actually “like” places like Dunkin’ Donuts on Facebook) that somehow combines Homer Simpson’s near catatonic drooling with the sort of breathless adulation more typically associated with fans of teenage pop idols.
The fast-food chain in question, citing stellar sales of their crazy concoction and pressure from fans on social media, announces it will sell the thing nationwide starting on XX date (in this case, on what is supposedly “National Donut Day”). This, in turn, results in another generous wave of hype in the form of snarky/sanctimonious commentary from the lefty, liberal, socially conscious community of foodies whose own breathless adulation is reserved for people like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman.
But to successfully ignite what is essentially the IED equivalent of a free publicity bomb, you’ve got to come up with a consumable that is suitably shocking yet still remotely palatable—even if only to what is, to many of us, a phantom demographic of fast-food fanatics.
I passed a billboard advertising a Richard Marx concert at a local casino recently, and wondered, “Who would actually pay to hear Richard Marx (Richard Marx !?) live?” Having covered a number of these fast-food menu “shockers,” I admit that I pretty much wonder the same thing about who orders this stuff.
But say what you want about the late-1980s balladeer: just a snippet of “Right Here Waiting” heard on the radio before your trigger finger is fast enough to switch the station, and that puppy is stuck in your head for days. Sappy love songs are harder to write and execute than they appear; same can be said for newsworthy fast-food creations.
Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos? Even if grudgingly, you’ve got to admit they were brilliant. But the KFC Double Down (which might be said to be the “sandwich” that launched this whole fast-food arms race back in 2010)? Is it even available anymore? Denny’s infamous maple-bacon sundae is a decidedly limited-time offer (as part of the chain’s “Baconalia” promotion). Even Dunkin’ Donuts, which jumped on the bandwagon with hush puppy/corndog-esque Sausage Pancake Bites in late 2010, has gone back to making those available only once in a blue moon.
The Associated Press story that ran about the doughnut breakfast sandwich begins with the line: “Even as fast-food chains tout their healthy offerings, they’re also coming up with fatty new treats to keep customers interested.”
That’s either charmingly naïve, exasperatingly lazy, or (more likely) another overworked journalist in an age of penny-pinching media corporations, but seriously: Does anyone out there buy the notion that any of these fast-food conglomerates are actually interested in “healthy”? (To wit: McDonald’s CEO dissing on salads recently at an investor conference.)
So there you have it: Dunkin’ Donuts is launching a crazy new breakfast hybrid sandwich; I’ve got “Right Here Waiting” stuck in my head; and next up, Wendy’s is playing coy about its plans to release its Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger nationwide sometime before the end of the year.