Retro Commercials: Dunkin’ Donuts ‘Time to Make the Donuts’

I don’t know about you, but commercials can often take me back to my formative years as quickly as any song or movie can. That is why we will continue this semi-regular feature on ’80s commercials that I consider particularly memorable, noteworthy, or forgotten. Television commercials were much more influential back when we were forced to watch them without the luxury to fast-forward through and/or stream shows with limited or no interruptions. This issue will cover the Dunkin’ Donuts “Time to Make the Donuts” commercials that started in the ’80s.

When Dunkin’ Donuts launched a new commercial back in 1981, I don’t think anybody knew it would go on to become one of the most iconic advertising campaigns of the decade (or any decade for that matter) lasting for over 15 years. Back in 1981, Dunkin’ Donuts introduced us to Fred the Baker who was played by actor Michael Vale. In a campaign created by ad agency Ally & Gargano, the same agency responsible the also iconic ’80s commercials for FedEx with fast-talking John Moschitta Jr., Fred the Baker delivered the famous tagline “Time to make the donuts” usually in a less-than-enthusiastic tone.

Vale, who had some minor film and stage roles, went on to reportedly appear in more than 1,300 television commercials – over 200 of which included him delivering that iconic line for Dunkin’ Donuts. Vale received the role of Fred the Baker through a casting call. Ally & Gargano creative director Ron Berger has said that Vale got the role because of his likeability and believability: “Michael was 100% believable. He looked and talked and walked and breathed like he was a guy who got up at 4 a.m. When it came to the final decision, Michael was the donut maker. After watching 300 people as Fred, Michael still made us laugh.”

For the next 15 years, Fred the Baker would explain that not only did Dunkin’ Donuts create up to 52 varieties fresh day and night, but that this was something your local supermarket certainly couldn’t do. Fred would say, “I’ll bet the grocery store guys are still in bed.” Each ad would also remind us that Dunkin’ Donuts had fresh-baked donuts every single day that were “Worth the trip.”

“Time to make the donuts” has become part of the lexicon. That is always an impressive feat for any advertising campaign when the tagline becomes part of our vernacular. The phrase is often used to describe having to get up to go to work when you don’t want to or something grueling that requires being done routinely. What isn’t always remembered or associated is what Fred the Baker does once the store opens. No matter how tired or monotonous making the donuts is for him, when the store opens he turns and faces his customers with a welcoming smile. During his time as the face of Dunkin’ Donuts, Fred the Baker really helped build the Dunkin’ Donuts brand making it into one of the first national chains for donuts/coffee as it expanded from the Northeast across the entire country.

So without further ado, let’s watch some of these commercials from the ’80s decade.  Here is the very first commercial introducing us to Fred the Baker…

For the first few years, they continued to use the same commercial over and over. That can get really annoying or really endearing, with Dunkin’ Donuts lucking out that it was the latter. It was never supposed to continue on as long as it did, but out of sheer popularity Dunkin’ Donuts had no choice than to continue to make the donuts with Fred. Then I believe they created a new one in 1984 that went on to air repetitively for the next couple of year. Here is that spot from 1984 where Fred alternates between “Time to make the donuts” and “I made the donuts” no matter the weather…

I am sure if you watched TV in the early ’80s, you have to remember those first two commercials. Then it seems that Dunkin’ Donuts tried to go with a little more variety over the remainder of the campaign, though I believe they might have gone back to those originals at points in time as well. Here is a spot from 1986 where Fred can’t stay awake for a dinner party because he got up so early to make the donuts…

Here is another from 1986 where it demonstrates that it is ALWAYS time to make the donuts…

Here is one more from 1986 where Fred dresses in drag to check out the lack of competition…

Here is one from 1987 where Fred shows his will power through a battle between a devil and angel on each shoulder…

Here is one from 1989 where they demonstrate how long grocery store donuts could have been sitting there…

Here is another one from 1989 where they explain that Dunkin’ Donuts has made their donuts the same way for 40 years…

The “Time to make the donuts” commercials continued well into the ’90s. Fred the Baker became as recognizable as Mr. Whipple for Charmin or Clara Peller for Wendy’s. When Dunkin’ Donuts made the decision to retire the beloved Fred the Baker character in 1997, it held a “retirement” parade in Boston and gave away 6 million free donuts to customers on that day. On his death in 2005, Dunkin’ Donuts released a statement, noting that Fred the Baker “became a beloved American icon that permeated our culture and touched millions with his sense of humor and humble nature.”

There you go, another trip down memory lane in the form of TV commercials. Who would have thought a droopy donut baker would become a pop culture icon, but that’s exactly what Dunkin’ Donuts did. And every time you hear the phrase, “Time to make the donuts”, you can also remember that it is another awesome thing to come from the ’80s. 

 

More Retro Commercial Features on TRN

About OldSchool80s 77 Articles
Old School Tim has an adoring devotion to the awesome '80s decade. He loves to relive and share that nostalgia on a regular basis. The Kickin' it Old School blog site has been retired, but you can still get daily doses of '80s goodness on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else they let him.

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