The business of America is business, Calvin Coolidge once said. That’s sound advice, and from a man of few words.
But what’s the business of business? It seems like this should be an obvious tautology, but sometimes it feels a bit like political persuasion in the era of the latte.
Take Starbucks, the coffee chain so omnipresent that I believe they’re about to open their fourth outlet at McMurdo Station.
Starbucks has combined ubiquity; a middle-of-the-road menu that consists of either bad coffee, hot milk that’s kind of touched coffee or diabetes-inducing desserts in cups that take up at least 125 percent of your daily caloric content; and a branding strategy that includes more than a dollop of liberal politics.
Starbucks has let everyone know how it feels about abortion through donations to Planned Parenthood. Starbucks has put PP on notice regarding guns. It used designs on the side of their coffee cups to try to start a conversation about race and even got political regarding who could use the company’s bathrooms. (Pretty much anybody, no matter whether you were buying some joe or not.)
Now, if you’re a corporation that wants to have a political, social or religious identity, that’s your right. Lord knows Black Rifle Coffee Company has gotten enough free marketing off of its conservative bent.
However, Black Rifle is a small boutique coffee roaster — not one of the world’s biggest coffee chains. People generally don’t like a side of politics with their caffeine.
That’s something Dunkin’ Donuts apparently seems to grok.
“We are not Starbucks, we aren’t political,” Drayton Martin, Dunkin’ Brands VP of brand stewardship, said at the 2019 meeting of the International Trademark Association, according to a series of tweets. (Yahoo! Finance reports that the panel wasn’t recorded and that a transcript wasn’t available.)
“We don’t want to engage you in political conversation, we want to get you in and out of our store in seconds,” she added. “We don’t want people burning their Munchkin boxes.”
"we are not starbucks, we aren't political– we aren't gonna put stuff on our cups to start conversations. we don't want to engage you in political conversation, we want to get you in & out of our store in seconds. it's donuts & ice cream– just be happy."#dunkin #inta2019
— alexandra j. roberts (@lexlanham) May 20, 2019
On issues of social conscience, Dunkin' can't stay neutral, but wants to make everyone feel welcome. "We don't want people burning their munchkin' boxes." So everything with social or political overtones has to be case by case and avoid partisanship. #INTA2019
— Betsy Rosenblatt (@221Betsy) May 20, 2019
Dunkin isn't Starbucks, they don't want to start a conversation on their cups. They want you in and out in a minute and twenty seconds. Have conversations with your friends; Dunkin isn't your friend. (This is such a New England attitude, I love it.) #INTA2019
— Stacey Lantagne (@StaceyLantagne) May 20, 2019
This likely wasn’t just a rogue executive, either. Consider the fact that Martin was on the panel with Dunkin’ Brands director of retail business development Chuck Kantner and director of legal counsel Alana Sharenow. If either contradicted Martin or attempted to yank her off of the panel with a cane as if a ghastly vaudeville act, record of it doesn’t exist.
It’s also worth noting that in her position with Dunkin’ Brands, Baskin-Robbins is part of Martin’s purview, as well. In other words, Ben & Jerry’s is another competitor. Just sayin’.
Martin’s remarks illustrate the ultimate paradox with the corporate desire to be both omnipresent and a sociopolitical actor: If you’re willing to alienate half of your audience, you’re going to have a competitor who’s willing to welcome those customers — along with people who agree with you as well.
I guarantee that Martin’s comments may ruffle some people who post 1,100-word screeds to Facebook about why Colin Kaepernick needs to be signed or else they’ll boycott a league they weren’t interested in anyway. That anger will go away, because Dunkin’ Donuts is going to go out of its way not to offend said rage-poster.
Dunkin’ will also not be going to go out of its way to offend conservatives, either, who are probably thrilled they can go somewhere and get coffee without giving money to a company that champions causes they loathe. Meanwhile, expect the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez collectible line of cups to be coming out of Starbucks any day now.
That’s why Calvin Coolidge would have been a Dunkin’ man. (And he was from Massachusetts anyway, where — by law — every third store must be a Dunkin’ Donuts.)
The business of business is business. Executives forget that truism at their own peril.