Video Marketing Showdown: Dunkin’ Donuts v. Starbucks

Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts? Ask anyone this question and you’re sure to get a heated answer. These two companies are locked in a fierce competition to be the best coffee joint of them all.  According to Investopedia’s comparison, Starbucks grew aggressively, despite being founded 20 years after Dunkin’ Donuts,  and is now the larger company raking in $16.8 billion in revenue while Dunkin’ reported only $828.9 million in 2017.


The differences don’t stop there, Forbes reports that Dunkin’ is a primarily U.S. based company while Starbucks gets a great deal of its revenue from markets outside the United States. These are significantly different companies fighting for the top spot as the King of Coffee, and marketing is key to this title.


Years have gone by, marketing tactics have changed and now video marketing is where the treasure lies. Sit back relax as we take a look closer look at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts’ video marketing strategies. It’s showdown time.





Starbucks has never been a typical company, especially in the realm of marketing. Preferring to stick with local advertisements, it wasn’t until 2007 that they created their first national video campaign, “Starbucks Red Cup”. Even after this first national television campaign, Starbucks still kept their video marketing on a different level compared to other companies.


Starbucks looks to sell an experience, not just a cup of coffee. They wanted to provide a “third place” atmosphere, somewhere a person can go outside their regular domain to have a cup of coffee and to relax. It was never just the coffee; it’s how the coffee makes you feel.  


A new campaign from Starbucks showcases the wide range of answers people have to the question: “What does good feel like?” This campaign was created for Teavana, Starbucks’s brand of tea, to promote the launch of three flavored shaken iced tea drinks.



What Starbucks does well

Starbucks does an amazing job of casting for this campaign, with an extremely diverse range of young, hip, and eclectic people. The video associates the Starbucks brand with the image of these people as well as their experiences. Beauty, pops of color, and the emotional focus of what “good” feels like, sets up the memorable “Starbucks Vibe” of the video. In this environment, Starbucks explores the feelings of happiness and bliss to suggest to the audience that taking a break with their Teavana tea can help you feel those very same emotions. Even with the only mention of the tea in the last ten seconds of the videos, the casting strategy and the honest interview feel certainly keeps with the theme of promoting a feeling, instead of the product. 


Starbucks goes even further with this branded entertainment, in the form of its YouTube channel where it has just begun its second season of it’s original series Upstanders.


This series showcases the people who do not sit by the wayside: when things go wrong. In fact, they do the opposite: they stand up for what’s right. This emphasis on people doing good in this world paired with the Starbucks brand through video is extremely well done. It  showcases that the Starbucks marketing team is using video marketing to its full potential. It’s hard to fabricate authenticity, and sharing the stories of these real people is far more powerful than a contrived storyline. Starbucks uses these deep rooted emotions, subtly joining those feelings of pride and accomplishment to the Starbucks brand. This strong, emotional connection with what their customer cares about solidifies the brand experience, and Starbucks takes full advantage of what they have created.




What Could Be Improved?

While Starbucks is all about selling the experience through branded entertainment and telling the stories of others, the downside is that the brand forgets to tell a lucid story of its own product.  The “Good Feels Good” is a great concept; however, it’s not extremely memorable because it’s vague. Unlike many other brands, there is no slogan to tie together a campaign or showcase a new product.


Starbucks instead has to lean on the “look and feel” of their video to communicate their brand, and that might be asking the audience to connect the dots between their advertising campaigns. While aesthetic is an important factor of branding and video marketing, it cannot be the only factor your audience connects with. Sometimes, it is better for the messaging to be clear. The audience might be intelligent, but making them work too hard to figure out what your video is even about isn’t good for any brand. The feel of Starbucks is important; however, it is the product that makes the money – and the product is almost nonexistent in Starbucks video campaigns.





 Compared to Starbucks, Dunkin’ uses a far more traditional approach to video marketing. They focus their videos around their product with a catchy slogan that comes at the end of almost every video they create.  Currently, this slogan is the well-known “America Runs on Dunkin’ .” But that’s not the only slogan they’ve ever had. In fact, since their opening they have changed their slogan 21 times! It’s not just their slogan that changes to keep up with the times. Dunkin’ is evolving constantly to keep up with the ever-changing market, making it more adaptable than Starbucks, whose advertising does not necessarily reflect their business changes. One of Dunkin’ Donuts’ more recent campaigns showcases their drive to keep up with current trends: the promotion of their mobile app.



The specific video campaign highlights what Dunkin’ does best. This video is narrative. Through this storyline, viewers are drawn in by the sense of excitement and accomplishment which helps to connect the viewer to the product as well as the brand. Throughout the video, they showcase Dunkin’ iced coffee, hot coffee, and the app itself consistently, allowing the viewer to associate the advertisement with the brand and its products seamlessly. However, the main focus of this ad is not only on the products, but also the convenience of their app. As they relate to the main character, viewers are drawn in by the narrative-style, making them wonder, “what could I achieve with the Dunkin’ App?” This question connects the audience to the brand in a way that is personal and unique.


Dunkin’ also takes advantage of partnerships with sports teams and sports franchises.  Sports are deeply rooted in American Culture. Those who play sports usually hold the qualities that most Americans wish they themselves possessed. Dunkin’ reflected those very sentiments in their advertisement, creating an extremely poignant and effective way to get the audience to connect with the brand.


For example, this advertisement video connects the Dunkin’ brand to early mornings, hard work and game time. Using the slogan “Brewed for this” to encapsulate the satisfaction of their video’s characters, Dunkin’ succeeds in instilling those very same emotions in the audience viewing the advertisement. 


Adding onto their existing video marketing strategies, Dunkin’ has also been using 360 videos and VR to promote their brand. This is an interesting move and one that adheres to their forward thinking marketing strategies, especially in relation to mobile. 




What Dunkin’ Does Well

Dunkin’ doesn’t force their brand into these videos. It’s very subtle: a Dunkin’ cup here, a man drinking coffee there. With these 360 videos, it’s more about the beauty and the aesthetic of the video itself, rather than it’s connection with the brand. They made sure they did not ruin this piece of branded content with heavy-handed product placement. Unlike Starbucks, however, it was still clear who created this video, and their product placement hit just right.


What Could Be Improved?

It can be argued that, while Dunkin’ has a cohesive message, they have so many different forms of advertising that there is no specific visual look to their video marketing tactics. While it has a well-known slogan, if the audience misses that one frame where the slogan pops up will they truly know that it’s a Dunkin’ commercial?


And the Winner is…..


This is a tough decision. Both companies excel in video marketing, and both have radically different strategies. Starbucks is a powerhouse in branded entertainment, connecting the good in the world with its own brand. This form of video marketing makes an impact on its audience, who are typically interested in these feel-good stories.


On the other hand, Dunkin’ creates extremely memorable video marketing campaigns. It has a slogan that sticks.This catchphrase doesn’t just appeal to one specific audience, it appeals to many audiences. What’s more, the very same branded entertainment that Starbucks has, Dunkin’ uses in a more traditional format.


Certainly, Starbucks’s amazing original series definitely gives it an edge, but while Dunkin’ might not have its own channel, its collaborations with sports franchises and use of sports as a way to connect the audience to their product is genius. This is America, the land of overzealous sports fans, so using athletics to sell product is always the way to go.


Dunkin’ is also far more forward-thinking than Starbucks. DD stays ahead of the times, whether that be with their slogan or with their video marketing. Their use of 360 videos to showcase their brand and their products is a great example of their innovation. What it comes down to is innovation, connecting with a broad audience, and clear branding. On all those points, Dunkin’ Donuts delivers.

Updated on January 24, 2020

Maya, Video Production and Marketing at Green Buzz Agency. Emily Herman contributed to this post.