QSR Innovators: Krispy Kreme’s CMO David Skena

Brand Innovators caught up with David Skena, CMO of Krispy Kreme, from his home in Orlando to talk about Halloween, pandemic campaigns and digital marketing.

Like many fast food companies, Krispy Kreme had to pivot during the pandemic to ensure that customers could still buy donuts even when its dine-in lobbies were closed.

Luckily for the donut chain, they had launched their first ecommerce and digital delivery platform in late February just before the lockdown happened. 

“Our national launch of delivery, as luck would have it, was February 29,” says David Skena, CMO of Krispy Kreme. “We had been working on it for quite a while, but it just so happened that we launched it two weeks before the pandemic.”

Delivery and pick-up went from representing a fairly nominal amount of the brand’s sales to a double-digit percentage of sales this year.  “We were grateful to have that with our lobbies closed,” adds Skena. “It was definitely helpful to have something other than the drive-thru where people could just come and do a pickup at the window or have it delivered to them.”

The brand has spent the year trying to delight customers and bring moments of joy, whether it’s through giving away donuts to healthcare workers and graduates or its latest Halloween campaign that puts a neighborly spin on a trick-or-treating season that has been mostly canceled. 

Krispy Kreme’s latest push encourages consumers to buy a dozen donuts — including its Frank Monster, Drake Monster and Wolfie Monster seasonal items —  on its “Sweet-or-Treat” Saturdays. The promotion offers a $1 Sweet-or-Treat dozen to give to friends with the purchase of any dozen with the idea that since people cannot trick-or-treat, instead they will leave a dozen donuts on a neighbor's porch.

Brand Innovators caught up with Skena from his home in Orlando to talk about Halloween, pandemic campaigns and digital marketing.


What is the strategy behind your reverse trick-or-treating campaign?

2020 has been plenty scary all on its own and so when we saw what was coming, we wanted to do something. Quite a while ago, we said, “What is Halloween going to look like with COVID going on? Will people be able to trick-or-treat? Will people be able to gather for Halloween parties?” We were ready, we had an idea that we thought could help our consumers out if trick-or-treating wasn't something that would go forward in October. Of course, we were all rooting for the virus to be gone by then, but we didn’t know.

When the CDC came out with the guidelines that trick-or-treating is a moderate-to-high risk activity, we were ready to activate a program to say, “Listen, you can't do the things you would normally do on Halloween, but that doesn’t mean Halloween can’t be sweet.” 

So we wanted to reverse trick-or-treat and make it about generosity for others. Instead of getting candy from others, we wanted people to give something even better to somebody you haven't been able to see for a while — whether that is a neighbor, family or friend because of COVID. Why not get a dozen donuts to put on somebody’s doorstep? So the strategy was really around living out our brand. Krispy Kreme is a generous, joyful brand. And then how can we do that in a culturally relevant way and extend  the favor and help make our consumer the hero and show how generous they are to others?

Is Halloween usually a big holiday for you?

Halloween is always a big deal for us. Obviously candy is probably the biggest category at Halloween for trick-or-treat. But there are so many family gatherings, so many family parties, we always have a really great collection of Halloween donuts, so it is definitely one of the biggest holidays for us each year. That is another aspect of this, what are you going to do during COVID to be able to meet not only your brand goals but your business goals at a time when so much feels different for our consumers?

How does this Halloween campaign help you connect to your target consumer?

A lot of the things we have done this year are really around being relevant on an occasion that may have changed. The occasion is Halloween, but that occasion has changed. We have a  broad base of consumers. If you go into any Krispy Kreme shop, you are likely to see old, young, every gender and ethnic and racial background because it is a very loved brand. We tend to think about how we can amp up that occasion. 

When we think about occasions, we try to take stock of where people are, meeting them where they are and asking ourselves, “How can we be relevant in this occasion?” Whether they are at home more or they can’t go to the office anymore, or in this case, “I can’t go trick-or-treating,” or “I can't have a big Halloween party.” How do we stay relevant for our consumer? We could provide an option that gives them what they want and a brief little joy in their life and that in turn draws us closer to them and we connect deeper with them, more than just a functional level. There is this feeling of, “Those guys are there for me,” “Those guys get me and that is the kind of brand I want to be associated with.” 

What other things have you done this year to pivot to the pandemic?

We have done a lot. We were off to what we thought would be a great year, doing well and then right around St. Patrick’s Day, everything just kind of became mission critical with the pandemic. We really moved on this as marketers. We thought, “OK, we’ve got to close our lobbies, that is hard. We have got to think about our marketing mix and reach out to our consumer base who are going to want things more delivered remotely or available for pick up. How do we pivot there?”

Most of all we have had to listen, learn and understand what consumers wanted and where we could tie that to our brand. We recognized that we wanted to be a brand that was helpful in this pandemic, but we can't make the surgical masks or respirators or things like that which were directly related to the pandemic. But we realized we could bring a lot of joy to the people who were helping out, so that is why you saw us, almost immediately, live out our brand more substantively than in normal times we would ever dare to. 

For example, the first act of joy we did was with Medical Monday, which was on every Monday. We said, “You know, you guys are helping people out on the front lines, we can’t thank you enough, but we’ll try. So just come by and tell us how many dozens of donuts you want. There is no purchase required, just take what you need.” 

That is pretty crazy for a company to just to give away their product with no expectation except hopefully their gratitude, because we were grateful to them, loving that consumer in a way in which we would hope someone would reach out to us and help during a pandemic. Medical employees were doing just that – Herculean efforts and heroic sacrifices to help people, we felt like that was the least we could do. 

So medical employees would come and pick up a few dozen donuts but not take too much. There was no limit. A lot of times they would even buy a few dozen, on top of the few dozen they got for free and we were able to do ok business wise, but that wasn't the goal, we just wanted to help them.

We pivoted a lot. We created a campaign called “A Dozen Acts of Joy.” We did “Be Sweet Saturday,” which we asked consumers to buy a dozen donuts and put it on the steps of a neighbor. If they bought a dozen, we gave them that dozen to do that. 

We did our graduate week. We felt awful for seniors graduating from high school and college and they got no ceremony. They didn’t get that moment to walk across the aisle and it kind of made our hearts break. Part of that strategy and the pivot, we had a Graduate Dozen we made and we just gave it to them on May 20th, a date that they maybe would have been graduating and walking across the aisle. But since you can’t do that, if you put on a cap and gown and come through our drive thru, we’ll just give you a dozen. These were gifts. 

We are really proud to do them for others, not only does it do something nice for consumers, it shows the heart of our brand which would have been difficult to demonstrate during normal times. It was a pretty massive pivot, consumers appreciated it. They rewarded it. A lot of the media we got spread the word. That’s what we count on. We count on people sharing how generous we are being, how much we are in love with our consumers and then they come in.

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