How Dunkin’ Harnessed TikTok-er Charli D’Amelio’s Influence and Enticed a Buyer
By: Kendall Tietz
Did the daddy of all influence marketing campaigns help make the once-beleaguered chain more attractive to buyers? There isn’t concrete proof that that’s what inspired Inspire Brands to announce in late October that it was acquiring Dunkin’, but there’s no question that Dunkin’ reaped benefits. And with increased social media use during the pandemic, all brands should note the influencers who are organically promoting their business and strike partnerships to double-down on that success, as Dunkin’ did with “The Charli.”
After Dunkin’ dropped “Donuts” from its name in 2019 to focus on its drinks, which account for over half of the brand’s revenue, the 16-year-old competitive dancer turned TikTok sensation, Charli D’Amelio (@charlidamelio) unofficially promoted their cold brew in her videos. She would famously take a swig of her favorite drink from the chain before showing off her latest viral dance sequence.
Those TikToks cumulatively generated more than 294 million video views, 41,000 likes, and 430,000 shares at no cost to Dunkin’, according to Business Insider. But Dunkin’ took notice and in September 2020 struck an official partnership with the influencer.
They launched “The Charli,” the TikTok-er’s favorite existing recipe, rebranded to feel custom. The sugar-packed cold brew with whole milk and shots of caramel flavor includes special social-media branding features, such as the drinks abbreviated name “ChrliCldBr,” aka Charli Cold Brew on the cup’s sticker. The limited-time drink became a must-try for Charli’s loyal, cult-like following, who were desperate to see what Charli was always sipping on in her videos. The result: new customers and more sales for Dunkin’.
The drink was available at Dunkin’ restaurants and through their app, which encourages customers to set up an account and order ahead, a pandemic-friendly option that allows for contactless service.
Dunkin’ further promoted the partnership with a social contest launched on September 9, 2020, where fans could post a photo recreating a Charli x Dunkin moment on Instagram with the hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest. Later that month, five winners were selected to hang out virtually with Charli.
Charli also took over Dunkin’s social channels in September, posting exclusive content throughout the month. There was a special AR Instagram filter, stickers, and even an original song inspired by “The Charli,” encouraging fans to show off their Charli-inspired dance moves on TikTok.
Dunkin’s restaurants originally struggled early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, but later reported rising sales in the third quarter after menu changes, expanded curbside pickup options, and of course, the Charli campaign. It’s no wonder that a buyer was eager to acquire them.
On October 30, Inspire Brands Inc. announced it would acquire Dunkin’ Brands Group, the parent company of Dunkin’ and Baskin Robbins, for $11.3 billion — the largest restaurant deal since 2014.
The Takeaway: Every brand should consider digging into their own audience (or their competitor’s) to unearth influencers of all shapes and sizes who are following them. Engaging these audiences and forming official collaborations is all about luring new, highly-engaged customers designed to generate tangible buzz around the brand in authentic, entertaining ways. Even if it doesn’t spur your own acquisition, it will at least unleash a measurable influx of new customers.