All of Us

Free Donuts Nudge People to Vaccinate?

by MakeUsWell

Krispy Kreme was founded circa 1937 in North Carolina. Their 2019 revenues were ~$888 million. And their marketing promotion gives us early evidence on how to dangle a (figurative) donut to get more Americans to take the COVID vaccine.


Recently, Krispy Kreme's launched a promotion. "Show your vaccination card and get a free original glazed donut." The marketing campaign's groovy design invoked 1950's post-war innocence and nostalgia. The snazzy sample vaccination card shows a Jane Dough, born on January 9, 1956.

The promotion gives a daily free original glazed donut to a vaccinated person for the rest of 2021.

And Next?

The mainstream and social media lit up. But the majority of the overall sentiment was negative. A smaller percentage were neutral to slightly positive.

MakeUsWell wanted to dig deeper. And we went behind the clickbaity, outrage generating, increase-Twitter-and-Facebook-ad-revenues machine's visceral screaming.

We applied our sophisticated statistical analyses to get beyond the noise from the chirping tweets.

This is a salient sampling of our analytical techniques:

  1. Delete the fake accounts. And the bots from Rhode Island, Russia, and Rajasthan.
  2. Subtract Twitter "influencers" who engaged in virtue-signaling. "I would never eat donuts because I drink my $15 smoothie while working in my Tesla outside the Mountain View Costco close to the Krispy Kreme," said a 20-something tech-bro who just raised $10 million for their startup.
  3. Deleted other activity from accounts with hidden financial interest. One person was trashing this promotion and fat-shaming people for eating donuts. Turns out they were also selling a keto cookbook.

The remainder were the authentic voices—or as authentic as you can get on social media—of real people and their opinions on this.


Classified the posts into two extreme emotions. Joy and Vitriol. Then benchmarked the posts to those around the Excelsior Pass in NY (a digital passport for individuals to share proof of test results and/or vaccine status).

The Fundamentals

People Do these Things

Metric Krispy Kreme Vs. Excelsior Pass % change Krispy Kreme Vs. Excelsior Pass
Vitriol Level Down 29%
Joy Level Up 13%

We also benchmarked against a large sample of Tweets and Facebook posts but for analytical reasons decided that Excelsior was the best (albeit still imperfect) comparison group.


The goofy memes won. Like the one with Jeff Goldblum saying, "the government is tracking you because this is the 5th time this week you went to Krispy Kreme."

A large percentage of the angry posts can be summarized as, "you'll increase your chances of a heart attack by eating a glazed donut every day. You are all a bunch of expletives juxtaposed with a political party and topped off with the name of a prominent politician."

So Krispy Kreme, creating joy with the promise of ostensibly free food, won over anger and vitriol.

And that makes sense.

As one responder to the promotion—a 29-year-old woman from Palo Alto—told us over the phone, "look, the world is falling apart. It's not going to kill me to have a donut!" She also told us that her mother was born in 1958, so only a couple of years younger than the fictitious Jane Dough in the Krispy Kreme ad.


We also talked to other users who were on the fence about the vaccination and got it because they wanted a fun respite from the pandemic-uncovered craziness.

So the promotion had positive real-world effects. Even though we know Krispy Kreme :

  1. Is a business and they did this for incremental revenues. And presumably some tax benefits.
  2. Donuts cost ~15-20 cents and people getting something free from marketing promotions buy other stuff ~60-85% of the time, depending on the segment, etc.

The most important finding is that this beat out more paternalistic, disguised-as-erudite things like the Excelsior passport.