Right ideas plus consistency equal success

I wish I'd had a camera.
It was 8:30 in the morning, and I was in a place where I don't normally hang out at that hour. Toronto's downtown financial area, fondly known as Bay Street.
Right across from First Canadian Place, there were two doughnut shops, each occupying some very expensive real estate, on two opposite corners of Adelaide Street and a small lane. It was a nice spring day, and both shops had their doors open, offering the columnist/passerby a clear view of their clientele.
There was a line of snappily dressed business people snaking out the door of the doughnut shop on the right. You could have shot a cannon through the doughnut shop on the left.

I wish I’d had a camera.

It was 8:30 in the morning, and I was in a place where I don’t normally hang out at that hour. Toronto’s downtown financial area, fondly known as Bay Street.

Right across from First Canadian Place, there were two doughnut shops, each occupying some very expensive real estate, on two opposite corners of Adelaide Street and a small lane. It was a nice spring day, and both shops had their doors open, offering the columnist/passerby a clear view of their clientele.

There was a line of snappily dressed business people snaking out the door of the doughnut shop on the right. You could have shot a cannon through the doughnut shop on the left.

I have no numerical evidence for the following, but I will nevertheless make two suppositions with a whole hell of a lot of confidence:

In a blind taste test, hardly any of those Bay Streeters could tell Doughnut Shop A’s coffee and crullers from Doughnut Shop B’s coffee and crullers.

In a separate research study, those Bay Streeters would swear up and down that they are not affected whatsoever by advertising.

They would, of course, be full of what my father politely called applesauce. Because there can be no other explanation for what I saw that morning than a phenomenon called brand-building. The doughnut shop on the left was called Prime Time Donuts. The doughnut shop on the right was called Tim Hortons. And it was simply the Tim name that made all those Bay Streeters – arguably among the most time-stressed people in the world – stand in line when they had a perfectly acceptable alternative 50 feet away.

Tim Hortons, and their agency, Enterprise Advertising, have over the years done an awful lot very right. I haven’t seen them on a lot of award podiums, and I don’t care. They have built a fast-food powerhouse that will soon overtake the supposed unbeatable, McDonald’s, in Canadian sales.

This is not easy. As a test-versus-control, see John Anderson Burgers. John Anderson was another Toronto hockey player – okay, not as good as Tim, but few were – who got into the fast-food business around the same time. Today, Tim Hortons is coast to coast, clean and classy, poised for major US expansion. John Anderson Burgers has three remaining stores, and to avoid libel proceedings, I’ll hold my comments to this: I’ve yet to see a line out the front door of any of them.

Tim Horton advertising has consistently positioned the chain as a warm, friendly people place. Tim Horton promotional work has been even better: their annual ‘Roll Up The Rim To Win’ event is, I’ll bet, the best-known promotion in Canada. It also unquestionably enriches every paper-cup manufacturer in the country, because all Tim’s competitors now carefully and slavishly rip it off.

The most important word in my previous paragraph is the word consistently. Tim Horton never seems to go off on strange tangents. They take what works, and they stick to it. One example is the Scottish brogue that emphasizes the R’s in ‘Roll Up The Rim’. Originally, the trilled R was part of a single radio execution – but the company liked it, the public liked it, and so they built on it. That ain’t dumb luck, boys and girls, that’s smart.

There should be a moral to this story, and there is: find a strong position, and stay there, longer than the new art director wants to, longer than the CEO’s spouse wants to. But since this world is not as simple as an Aesop’s fable, there’s an asterisk next to the moral: you have to get things right in the first place. Otherwise, no matter how many times your agency account director buys lunch, smiles, and says ‘Stay the course’, you’re sailing to a Gilligan’s Island shipwreck.

Nevertheless, brand consistency is a good place to start. For those of you in Toronto, go to Adelaide West some morning, and check that out.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING * CREATIVE THINKING.’ He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com.