Companies are rebranding with intentionally vague names. Dunkin’ Donuts is the latest.


Dunkin’ Donuts, the self-proclaimed “#1 retailer of donuts in America,” is distancing itself from the delicious, sugary pastry for which it is named. As of January 1, 2019, Dunkin’ Donuts will ditch the name it has used since 1950 and officially rebrand to the shortened “Dunkin’,” the company said on Tuesday.

Why? Dunkin’ Donuts describes this change as one part of its “multi-faceted blueprint for growth,” which also involves revamped stores featuring doughnuts displayed in glass cases (instead of metal baskets behind the cashier), digital ordering kiosks, and tap systems for cold drinks, like you’d see in a bar. Its pink and orange color scheme — a frankly chic power clash— will remain.

For brands and college freshman alike, there’s no easier way to mark an image overhaul than by taking on a new name. Dunkin’ Donuts is one of a few brands, including WW (formerly Weight Watchers) and Joann (formerly Jo-Ann Fabrics), that have recently changed their names into something vaguer. By dissociating from one specific kind of product or area of focus, they can either push a new message or communicate to customers that they sell a wide range of items — all the better to grow and grow, per the demands of capitalism.

The case for obfuscating what you sell

It’s not that hard to justify Dunkin’ Donuts’ name change. The company’s slogan is “America runs on Dunkin.’” Lots of customers, especially in its native New England, already call it “Dunkies” or “Dunkin.” Coffee is its main business, not glazed treats and their jelly-filled ilk: It declared itself a “beverage company” in 2013, and today drinks make up 60 percent of its sales, according to the New York Times.

However, the alteration is part of a long tradition of big companies making their names more opaque in order to make brand extensions easier. In 2011, Starbucks removed the words “Starbucks Coffee” from the logo on its cups because, then-CEO Howard Schultz said at the time, “It’s possible we’ll have other products with our name on it and no coffee in it.” Weight Watchers just changed its name to “WW,” because in our body-positive, wellness-focused culture, it didn’t want to be so closely associated with dieting. This summer, Jo-Ann Fabrics became just “Joann,” no hyphen.

“Part of the reason Joann dropped the ‘Fabrics’ from its name? To teach potential customers (and remind old ones) that the store is much more than just fabric,” reported Adweek.

IHOP, meanwhile, attempted a marketing prank and claimed it had renamed itself the International House of Burgers (to promote its new burger recipe).


No doubt Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t want to limit itself — on a branding, if not practical, level — to doughnuts. Reduced to Dunkin’, a world of possibilities open up. What are you dunking? Could be anything!

This is also happening at a time when every company under the sun wants to be a “lifestyle brand,” which can involve selling a more comprehensive range of products or pushing a message of “shared values” with customers. And if a brand wants license to overtake every aspect of shoppers’ lives, it shouldn’t define itself by a single product category.