"Dunkin'terns' Aims At Gen Z, Makes A Bot Of Ben


“Jennifer Lopez is Making Summer Travel Plans amid Marriage Strain with Ben Affleck,” is the latest People magazine headline about the two-year-married pair, an article that uses “sources” to eke out a few paragraphs about their couple troubles and the fact that the singer, who canceled her summer tour, might possibly be planning a vacation. 

I imagine that as the tabloid press pays seemingly hourly attention to Bennifer and their passing moods, that would add a whole world of strain to their already noted strain. It’s something that Affleck, notoriously, does not like.

In fact, one of the earliest Dunkin’ commercials featuring a delightfully self-aware and self-effacing Affleck played off a social media meme mocking Ben for “looking bored” at the Grammy Awards, sitting next to his multi-awarded songbird wife.



In his Dunkin’ response, starting on the Super Bowl in 2024, Affleck decides to become a pop singer, too. He adds his friend Matt Damon, Fat Joe and others into the mix to perform as the DunKings -- a rapper parody, including their wardrobe, which consists of eye-damagingly phosphorescent orange-and-pink jumpsuits and bucket hats. The oversized costumes were later merchandised by Dunkin' in a “fashion” line that sold out. 

But the bigger point was how cringe-worthy the new boy band was  to JLo (even though it included a granny-glasses wearing Tom Brady) as they invaded her recording session. (They did indeed drop their own song, scooped up by DunKing fanatics.)

Another spot that played off the marriage, “Drive-Thru,” began at the Super Bowl 2023. In it, a rather disheveled, overworked Ben -- bearded and with a thick Boston accent -- is manning the microphone in a window at an actual Dunkin' drive-through in Medford, Massachusetts  His wife rolls up, and demands that he come home, and poor Ben is embarrassed in front of his co-workers.  Before she pulls away, Lopez summons her Bronx to say, “Grab me a glaze!”

Together, the Super Bowl 2023 and 2024 ads were huge crowd-pleasers, and demonstrated a pitch-perfect marriage of Bennifer’s combined acting and comedy chops.

So it’s with sadness that I report that although the new Dunkin’ summer campaign -- “Dunkin’Terns,” promoting its fine line of iced drinks -- comes from Affleck and Matt Damon’s production company, Artist Equity, it's Affleck-free.

He appears to be taking the summer off. Or is he?

Set at a fake glass-and-steel corporate headquarters, the commercial stars Will Arnett, who as CEO, along with “Corporate Natalie” (aka Natalie Marshall) is bunglingly pushing “Big Dunkin’ Iced Energy,” or BDIE, by trying to talk like the kids.

The GenZ Dunkin’Terns and influencers, gathered around a long white table, are unhappy that they won’t be meeting Matt and Ben. But with the push of a button (the Dunkin’ version of the Staples’ Easy Button) a robot comes to deliver ice coffee, but malfunctions.

The on-the-blink cyborg looks amazingly like Ben Affleck out of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum. As they push him backwards on his wheels, RoboBen is awesome. and easily the high point of the spot.

To watch Arnett (whom I Iove) parody an awkward corporate guy who doesn’t know the lingo feels a little stale. And the whole inside-the-company-workings thing feels more forced than funny.

But along with storytelling, Dunkin’ is plunging into a strategy of connecting with Gen Z-ers. Those at the table include a beauty queen, TV and gaming stars, musical artists and influencers.

The breakout 15-second spots are better, since they are more specific.

A :15 with Arnett and Corporate Natalie talking to Joey Fatone (of NSYNC) and AJ McLean (Backstreet Boys) as they suck on their giant iced coffees is fun.

Dunkin’ is planning to release its first custom-created music from the boy band alums, and also will be working with fashion, tech and food A-listers to go deeper into those disciplines.

Of course Dunkin’ can’t possibly do better than the free publicity of a two-and-a-half-minute “Saturday Night Live” sketch starring Casey Affleck as the cigarette-smoking, drink-stealing, fight-starting, and -- sorry, but as he puts it, “dump”-taking -- self-proclaimed “Mayah” of a Dunkin’ outlet in Boston.

Whereas this “Dunkin’Terns" idea in a fake corporate setting is trying to sell real corporate goals, and it gets messy telling the difference.

I’m counting on Ben, no matter what happens in his marriage, to straighten it out.

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