Tim Hortons issues wakeup call

Everyone's heard the clichés before. 'We're living today in a world without borders.' 'There is no such thing as a Canadian company anymore.' 'The whole world is our marketplace now.' But what, exactly, does all of this mean in terms of...

Everyone’s heard the clichés before.

‘We’re living today in a world without borders.’ ‘There is no such thing as a Canadian company anymore.’ ‘The whole world is our marketplace now.’

But what, exactly, does all of this mean in terms of concrete, day-to-day reality? What do Canadian firms go through in the effort to market their products and services internationally? How do they build brands on a global basis? What are the challenges – and the rewards?

For this special report, Strategy’s writers profile the global marketing activities of several noteworthy Canadian companies.

No list of Canadian institutions would be complete without some mention of Tim Hortons. Survey folks on the streets of Red Deer, Alta. or Yarmouth, N.S., and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s never ever stopped at Tim’s for coffee and an old-fashioned glazed.

Mention Tim Hortons to most Americans, however, and all you’ll get is a blank look – except from those middle-aged hockey obsessives with a vague recollection of the rugged defenceman who lent the doughnut chain its name.

A morning pit stop at Tim Hortons just isn’t an integral part of the American experience – yet. But there are plans afoot to change that. The Oakville, Ont.-based retailer first moved into the States in 1985, and has expanded its U.S. presence rapidly over the last three years.

‘The breakfast category is underdeveloped in the U.S., so we saw it as an opportunity to create a category,’ says Cathy Whelan-Molloy, director of U.S. advertising for Tim Hortons. ‘No one else is really doing everyday morning coffee and baked goods very well.’

The essential elements of the brand positioning – fresh, convenient and less expensive than specialty coffee shops like Starbucks – are the same as in Canada, but the advertising is, by necessity, quite different. Americans just aren’t familiar with Tim Hortons, Whelan-Molloy explains, so they need to be educated.

Two television spots are currently running in key U.S. markets. They depict ‘morning people’ – a sunshiny drill sergeant and a twinkly schoolteacher – whose unbounded good cheer has clearly been produced by Tim Hortons coffee.

Both spots were created by Toronto-based Enterprise Creative Selling, where Whelan-Molloy worked before joining Tim Hortons. Enterprise produces all creative for the Canadian and U.S. markets, and handles media buying for the chain in collaboration with J. Walter Thompson.

Expansion into the U.S. has been a relatively painless process for Tim Hortons, thanks in part to its 1995 merger with Wendy’s International. The two organizations now share an office in Dublin, Ohio, and TDL Group (parent company of Tim Hortons) also maintains an office near Detroit, Mich.

The company currently has 127 U.S. stores, concentrated mainly in the vicinity of Detroit, Buffalo, N.Y. and Columbus, Ohio. (By contrast, Tim Hortons operates approximately 1,800 stores in Canada.) Growth in the Columbus area was facilitated by the decision to buy out a local fast-food chain called Rax, and convert the locations.

‘What that allowed us to do was open 30 stores very quickly,’ Whelan-Molloy says. ‘We wanted the market penetration, because that’s what’s going to help us. And it also gave us the store base that we needed to be able to advertise on television.’

In the immediate term, the chain will focus on building its existing markets, adding some 15 new locations in the year ahead. TDL is also considering the possibility of establishing some combined Tim Hortons-Wendy’s locations in the Detroit area, now that the consumer base is sufficiently familiar with the brand name.

Also in this report:

- Faces adapts to local market: Cosmetics retailer leverages awareness of cultural differences p.25

- Honeydew pegs future on U.S. sales p.26

- Buckley’s takes bad taste message abroad: Cough syrup marketer making steady inroads in U.S. and overseas p.27

- Great Canadian Bagel makes slow but sure gains in Moscow p.27

- Southbrook Farms and Winery proves its worth abroad: Ontario winemaker uses foreign success to boost sales at home p.28

- Seagull Pewter sells at shows: Family-run giftware operation does business in over 20 territories p.28

- Clearly Canadian launches in U.S. first p.28

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group