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Who Would Say No to Free Donuts?

What’s in this article:

  • Krispy Kreme is giving out free doughnuts every day this year to those who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine
  • Though it seems like a sweet deal – it is getting widely criticized by some on Twitter
  • On the surface of it, Krispy Kreme’s customer base already buys the donuts and we think the campaign will bring it more goodwill where it counts

You may be surprised. It took mere hours for the Krispy Kreme campaign to reward people who get the COVID-19 vaccine with free donuts to blow up on Twitter, and it’s not all good publicity.

On March 22, Krispy Kreme announced what it calls “Sweet support to those who are protecting themselves and others by getting vaccinated: FREE doughnuts.”

That’s the part of the brand’s promotion that got highlighted on Twitter by both the company’s own feed and the news shared on CBS.

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In truth, there is more to campaigns with free donuts and coffee on offer every Monday through May 24 and the sale of a second dozen donuts for just $1 every weekend through May 23. The latter has a general COVID-19 theme as the Be Sweet Dozen and is designed “To safely share” a set of donuts with a “Special smiley-face.”

The marketers for the brand sought to tie all three offers together under the “Be sweet” theme with the free Monday as “Be sweet to yourself,” second dozens for $1 as “Be sweet to your friends & neighbors,” and the free donut reward for vaccination as “Be sweet to your community.”

No doubt, the brand expected that the move would be warmly welcomed by all who want to encourage vaccinations and who enjoy sugary treats. But we are in 2021 when it’s not safe to assume that anything will be universally applauded.

Thus, there were thousands of responses to the brand announcement and the report on the CBS tweet. Some were appreciative along the lines of this quote tweet:

In truth, that glib assessment doesn’t fit the facts. In New York City, for example, the vaccine rollout has been rather slow and still is not available to anyone who wants it. In other words, you can’t just decide that you want a free donut and so walk in to get a shot unless you meet eligibility standards.

But this is Twitter so real facts have very little to do with emotional responses. And while giving out sweet treats normally automatically wins loyalty points, that’s not the case when people have such strong feelings about what really counts for healthy outcomes.

As a result, many tweets were highly critical of Krispy Kreme’s incentive, viewing this rather like a dentist giving candy to children – a move that undermines the supposed health goal.

Neil Floch MD whose bio makes it clear that obesity treatments are his focus had a string of tweets about just how bad he thought this reward from Krispy Kreme was. No doubt those contributed to that fact that the donut brand name was trending alongside #obesity for a while on March 2:

Other doctors on the platform also weighed in (no pun intended), as they appear to be extremely passionate about the damage caused by eating donuts and the like.

One doctor took it further to point out that marketing messages and true caring

should not be conflated:

So, was this really a bad idea? Not necessarily.

True, obesity is not caused by a single donut any more than alcohol dependence springs from a single drink. But then there is the question of brand identity here: Does it make sense for Krispy Kreme, which is all about enjoying empty calories, to position itself as an advocate for health?

Also, the fact is that most people have put on weight as a result of the lockdown measures put in place in most states, as attested to in this report:

We all know that excess weight is not healthy, and it’s the suggestion of hypocrisy of a donut brand offering its product as a reward for taking the COVID-19 vaccine that bothers some people.

However, there are also a substantial number of people who will always respond positively to the lure of free, particularly for something they normally buy. (See what Dan Ariely said about its pull in The Nuances of the FREE! Experiment).

Given that Krispy Kreme’s customer base already buys the donuts without feeling like they are ruining their health as a result, the campaign will bring it more goodwill where it counts.

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