Tim Hortons brings back the battle for donut supremacy

The QSR taps Jann Arden and Ben Mulroney to join Jason Priestley on the Duelling Donuts judging panel.

Got an idea  for the next big donut sensation? For the second year, anyone who wants to get their idea for a donut into their neighbourhood Tim Hortons has a chance to with the Duelling Donuts contest.

From now until Aug. 1, Canadians can go to the Duelling Donuts website and create their own concoction. This year, the restaurant has added new ingredients and weekly themes to motivate the creativity of prospective donut chefs.

Eight finalists will be chosen and flown to the headquarters in Oakville, ON. to pitch their donut design to the panel in what Tammy Martin, Tim Hortons’ VP of marketing, food and merchandise, describes as a new, “Dragons’ Den“-style set up. The judges will choose four donuts that Canadians will voted for online, starting Aug. 18. The winner receives $10,000 and their donut will appear in Tim Hortons locations later this year.

The restaurant will also release video of the judging process and the donut creators’ pitches online before the final vote takes place. Jason Priestley will return as a judge from last year’s contest, leading a panel that has expanded to include musician Jann Arden, celebrity chef Anna Olson and TV host Ben Mulroney.

Last year’s contest saw over one million interactions from Canadians through Facebook and Twitter, plus more than 128,000 votes on 63,000 entries submitted to the contest website. The winner was Toronto’s Andrew Sheppard for “The Tortoise Torte,” a vanilla donut covered in chocolate fondant, caramel and pecans.

The entire contest, from the design process to the voting to the video content, will be living on the website. Martin says last year’s contest gave the restaurant the chance to more actively pursue promotions that strengthen its social media and digital presences.

“Because it’s a virtual program, we decided that the best place to be advertising is where the eyeballs are anyway,” Martin says. Besides some signage and a presence on digital menu boards in store, the restaurant is driving people to the contest entirely through Facebook and Twitter. OgilvyOne handled the digital media strategy and Mindshare took on the media buy, with assistance on the public relations side of the campaign from Paradigm.

The contest is targeting Tim Hortons’ existing donut-loving audience, but also trying to entice chefs and “pastry-passionate people” with this year’s new creative options. Unlike past, smaller summer promotions based around flavours of the month, Duelling Donuts encourages patrons to be participatory, much like the restaurant’s other big contest, Roll Up The Rim To Win. What’s different about this contest, and others like its current Chill to Win Iced Capp contest, is that it’s based on creativity, instead of product giveaways.

“What this does is it allows us to get inside the minds of our consumers and get their thinking around what the next donut could be,” Martin says.