Recently Dunkin’ Donuts announced that it would be partnering with Runner’s World to add a new level to its DDSMART program (DDSMART being the name Dunkin’ has given to its lower-calorie menu)–now, in addition to a range of menu items that weigh in under the 400-calorie mark, everyone’s favorite donut hut is offering tips and tricks for staying healthy and fit, and getting your run on. The partnership is meant to emphasize the importance of a holistic approach to fitness–one that focuses on more than just eating right. As Dunkin’ explains,
Making smart choices about what you eat is one way to stay on track. Another is keeping active. Run your first 5-K or 10-K, or train for your next! [sic] Runner’s World® and DDSMART® have developed training plans and helpful strategies to keep you moving.
It makes total sense, right? I know when I’m thinking about how I want to train for my next race, the first place I think to go is Dunkin’ Donuts’ website! And besides, America does run on Dunkin’. In case you couldn’t tell, those last three sentences were meant to be sarcastic.
Now, I happen to be choosy about where my health- and fitness-related information comes from, and I’m also always very critical of programs like this one, in which a store famous for its decidedly unhealthy product gives itself a bit of an image make-over and claims to be all about being in shape and taking care of oneself. Call me a cynic. I just always think there’s more to these things than a straightforward “we really value your health” perspective. And that’s why it disappoints me that Runner’s World has jumped into bed with DD.
Deep down I know I really shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed by this turn of events: Dunkin’ Donuts and Runner’s World are both businesses, and businesses have to make money. I’m willing to bet that this partnership is a pretty sweet deal for Runner’s World, which stands to gain visibility and exposure in a market that might not have been familiar with it before. But the naive idealist in me wants to walk down the street to the Rodale office, knock on someone’s door, and ask (Amy Poehler and Seth Myers-style) “Really?” I mean, isn’t this sort of selling out? Or at least compromising some sort of standard? Or demonstrating that at the end of the day, financial gain is more important than consistency in brand messaging?
I’m aware that one could very easily argue that the whole DDSMART idea is great, and it’s made even better by getting Runner’s World‘s stamp of approval–after all, the most important thing is that Dunkin’ Donuts is taking initiative and making it easier for people to learn about how to treat themselves well, isn’t it? To me, the problem with that perspective is that while the DDSMART menu may provide Dunkin’-goers with healthier alternatives to its other items, it’s not presenting a viable, long-lasting image of a healthy lifestyle. Those 400-calorie choices are good in a pinch, but you know what else contains fewer than 400 calories? A donut. And while I know that an English muffin with egg and cheese is not the same as dough that’s been fried in oil, filled with cream, and dipped in chocolate (mmm Boston cream donut), neither one is an ideal choice if you’re trying to eat balanced, whole foods. Slapping a Runner’s World logo on it isn’t going to change anything. At the end of the day, this partnership just represents the extremes that our society values: indulgent treats and a lean, fit physique. Too bad we can’t have our cake and eat it too.