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From AJR,   October/November 2003  issue

Eyes Glaze Over with Krispy Kreme Coverage   

Enough is enough with the nonstop coverage of one particular donut company


By Jill Rosen
Jill Rosen is AJR's assistant managing editor     

Krispy Kreme boasts more than 310 stores across 41 states.

Additionally, the company peddles its doughy wares at "thousands" of supermarkets and convenience stores.

Krispy Kreme could fill "nearly five" Olympic-size swimming pools each year with the chocolate it uses and--and!--so many sprinkles top the donuts, they equal the weight of 184 elephants.

Finally, drumroll please, every week, Krispy Kreme makes enough donuts to form a sugary trail from New York to Los Angeles.

All those grandiose facts come from Krispy Kreme's own press material, facts clearly intended to portray a donut so oft-eaten and a company so well-known that anyone who hasn't dunked one by now is either living in a Third-World country or on Atkins. So why in the name of all that is glazed do journalists feel the need to write a story every time a Krispy Kreme opens? Ev-er-y time. Complete with photos and if-you-go boxes.

Want proof? Try Google. Try Lexis-Nexis. Dare you not to find coverage of a store opening. Double-dog dare you to find coverage of a store opening packing less sugar-coating than a sticky dozen. In just a few weeks in August and early September, news organizations in America (there were more internationally) who jumped on the donut-happy bandwagon included: the Chicago Daily Herald; CNN; the Palm Beach Post; Youngstown, Ohio's Vindicator, Connecticut's Norwich Bulletin; Oregon's Hillsboro Argus; the Fort Collins Coloradoan; Indiana's South Bend Tribune; the Daily Press in Hampton Roads, Virginia; USA Today; Elmira, New York's Star-Gazette; the St. Petersburg Times; the Tampa Tribune; the Long Island Business News, and Michigan's Battle Creek Enquirer and Lansing State Journal.

Most newspapers, TV newscasts and radio programs find it hard to ignore the opening of a new Krispy Kreme outlet. Actually, they probably don't even try. When a store comes to town--any town--it's treated like a news event, from the time its plans pass the zoning board to its meticulously razzmatazzed grand opening.

And this is no ordinary coverage. Objectivity goes out when the "hot now" sign goes on. This is ecstatic coverage. Enamored, awestruck and charmed. As reporters strain to put the delight into words ("gooey, glazed goodness," "savory, addictive ambrosia," "let the mouth watering begin"), one can only wonder how many donut crumbs are falling into their keyboards.

The St. Petersburg Times wrote in August after the opening of a new store: "Life here will soon start revolving around this new loveable kreme center, affecting everything from gym memberships to daily traffic patterns." Covering the same opening--of the sixth Krispy Kreme to open in the area--the competing Tampa Tribune told readers in its lead, "The red neon 'Hot Doughnuts Now' sign is scheduled to flicker on at Brandon's new Krispy Kreme at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday." Set your watches, Tampa!

Reporters who long ago learned to tune out such ceremonial publicity as the passing of a giant check, the cutting of a ribbon or a brass-shoveled groundbreaking cannot deny Krispy Kreme. In Lafayette, Indiana, Max Showalter, a business reporter for the Journal and Courier, wrote no less than four stories about Double K's debut there. He says Krispy Kreme invited representatives from nonprofits and area "top dogs" to the big show, and "I don't see how you can ignore that."

Retail reporter Susan Stock, who in August wrote one of the Lansing State Journal's three Krispy Kreme pieces, says she isn't sure why the paper devoted so much ink to the donuts. "That's a really good question, in retrospect," she says. "I don't know if we would have if we had thought it out."

Giving it some analysis, Stock guesses Krispy Kreme appealed to her paper because it was the area's first store. That "kind of made it a little more important," she says. Oh, and a woman with an autistic son "obsessed with Krispy Kreme" held a two-week vigil outside the shop before it opened. But Stock says the opening would have gotten coverage even without the vigil. "People in our community wanted to read about it, and they obviously wanted to eat the donuts." Stock's newsroom had that same anticipation. "When I first said Krispy Kreme, there was a tidal wave that went through the newsroom," she laughs. "Heads turned. 'Did she say Krispy Kreme?' "

Brooke Smith, Krispy Kreme spokeswoman, explains that the profuse amount of media time her company gets is due to the donuts being newsworthily tasty--that and having kustomers krazy enough to spend weeks in line for the privilege of eating first. "It's not like a masterminded, crafted thing," she insists. "It's more about a passion, something our customers are excited about." It apparently has nothing to do with the swag Krispy Kreme showers upon each community it moves into--donuts for the local powers-that-be, donuts for the charities and, to be sure, donuts upon donuts for reporters. Both Showalter and Stock say their newsrooms actually had to call Krispy Kreme and say enough with the donuts after dozens kept arriving daily.

Krispy Kreme's nonstop coverage is no accident, says Amy Joyner, a business reporter for Greensboro, North Carolina's News & Record, located just one town over from Krispy Kreme's corporate headquarters. After covering the donut company for the paper and coauthoring a book due out this fall called "Making Dough: The 12 Secret Ingredients of Krispy Kreme's Sweet Success," Joyner is quite familiar with Krispy Kreme's brilliantly honed marketing. In 2002, she says, the company recorded a stunning 2 billion media mentions--though in addition to news, that also included appearances on shows like "Will & Grace," where, Joyner says, the donuts are "featured more than some of their costars."

But despite Krispy Kreme's savvy, it surprises Joyner that the media fall so hard under its spell. "I know we'd never cover these openings if it was a department store or a McDonalds," she says. "For some reason people lose their heads when they're covering Krispy Kreme.... The media does feed the frenzy. We help them with their marketing, there's no question about it."

Sid Smith of the Chicago Tribune is one of the few reporters to consider Krispy Kreme's constant coming out party in the media. Though Smith grew up on the donuts in Alabama, in May 2002 his editor, who thinks the donuts are "terrifically overhyped," pushed him to take a harder look at the Krispy craze after Minneapolis' Star Tribune sent four reporters to cover the opening of a local shop, then featured the story on A1.

Smith, perhaps because of his Krispy Kreme youth, is adamant that like Beatlemania in the 1960s, Krispy Kreme is a pop phenomenon and, hence, a story, as its circus moves from town to town. How much the media feed and build that is another story. "Whether we're creating our own sensation, that's a tough question," he says, then recalls the camping out overnight for donuts. "We couldn't really on our own create that out of thin air."

At the Star Tribune, some on the staff got something of a sugar-induced headache last year realizing the paper went overboard in its opening day A1 donut blitz. Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow diluted his paper's excesses with a piece a few days later, dryly noting, "Krispy Kreme had newspaper, radio and TV reporters crawling all over themselves to get at 'the story.' "

Grow vehemently disagrees with Smith's donut-as-Beatles rationale for coverage. "A $%?@ donut???" he gasps. "Once upon a time with newspapers, perspective used to be part of the deal." He says that the Star Trib fueled whatever fire Krispy Kreme's arrival generated by doing a 40-inch business front story nearly two years beforehand headlined "Donut fans' prayers are answered." Of course people showed up and went crazy, he says.

As for why news organizations continue to do this, Grow has a theory, one that reaches far beyond the allure of free donuts. In Krispy Kreme, journalists see the brass ring, the way to reach the Everyreader. "We want to prove we're not this big, corporate, cold, lefty newspaper--we're a newspaper of the people," he says. "And what shows this more than getting excited over a donut shop."

So get excited. The 400th store may be coming to a town near you.