Krispy Kreme gave out 30 million free doughnuts during the pandemic

CMO Dave Skena on how the brand decided to bring joy to Americans.

Krispy Kreme gave out 30 million free doughnuts during the pandemic

Campaign: Acts of Joy
Company: Krispy Kreme
Duration: April 2020 - present

In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 caused Krispy Kreme to rethink its marketing strategy and mission. While the brand couldn’t pivot to making masks or hand sanitizer, it wanted to bring joy to Americans, particularly front-line workers, by giving away free doughnuts. 

In March, Krispy Kreme had a fairly typical marketing strategy planned for 2020. But as COVID-19 spread throughout the country, it pressed pause. 

“We had to decide if marketing was something we wanted to invest in if stores can’t be open,” said Dave Skena, Krispy Kreme’s CMO. At the time, a lot of companies were reducing their marketing budgets in anticipation of widespread shutdowns.

After giving it some consideration, Krispy Kreme decided to “go on the offense,” Skena said. Instead of reining in spending, the team wanted “to identify the role we could play during this tough time.”

Although it couldn’t pivot to making hand sanitizer or masks, “we can share joy,” Skena said, while simultaneously creating newsworthy giveaway initiatives that captured the attention of consumers. 

The simplest way forward? Hand out free doughnuts. So began Acts of Joy, a multi-pronged campaign of doughnut giveaways, starting with healthcare workers. 

Planning for the campaign began in late March. The first giveaway was focused on healthcare workers, with weekly free doughnut days for doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff. From there, Krispy Kreme held a number of additional themed giveaways, including for seniors, recent graduates and educators, as well as two-for-one boxes that allowed people to safely drop off doughnuts at friends’ houses.

A main priority was getting the word out about each giveaway. The team worked diligently to pitch a variety of publications, including local outlets.

“When you are being generous and kind the media tends to share that story,” Skena said. Krispy Kreme also used “old-school techniques,” including alerting relevant unions, like those representing teachers and healthcare workers.

To-date, the overall Acts of Joy campaign has generated more than 6,300 earned stories, including coverage by Good Morning America, People, Fox Business and the Today Show

Organic campaign posts on Krispy Kreme’s social media channels received 530,000 engagements. Through paid social support, primarily on Facebook and Instagram, campaign posts generated 104,000 shares and 21,000 comments. 

Acts of Joy has resulted in the giveaway of more than 30 million doughnuts in the U.S. The campaign also had a positive impact on business, Skena said. Since an initial dip in March, same-store sales have remained positive.

“It was a big win for the business, and a big win for our consumers who all deserve a break, frankly,” he said. “It was a tough time for everybody. We are doing what we can.”

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