Here's the skinny:

"Fred the Baker" first appeared in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial in 1982.  The gimmick was that Fred always got up at 4:00 AM every morning to go to the Dunkin' Donuts store and start making doughnuts, because their doughnuts were always made fresh.  Fred quickly became somewhat of an cultural icon, if only because of the incredible pervasiveness of the commercials.

In real life, Fred was played by Michael Vale.  He appeared in over 80 commercials as Fred.

It was one of the longest running ad campaigns ever, lasting up until 1997.  That year, a new CEO--Jack Shafer--took over the management of Dunkin' Donuts and decided to change the direction of the company.  Shafer said:

"Fred was a fabulous icon for the business, but he was starting to mature and as the brand was starting to rejuvenate and broaden to a wider customer base, we had to change the strategy.  Fred was also a baker, and now our brand position is shifted to coffee, with less emphasis on the baking."

Fred thus "retired" from his position as baker on September 27, 1997, becoming the official "Dunkin' Donuts Diplomat".  On the day of his retirement, anyone who visited a Dunkin' Donuts shop was entitled to one free doughnut--no other purchase necessary. They gave away in excess of 6,000,000 free doughnuts.

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