Shopper Innovation Awards: Tim Hortons’ blind taste test

To launch its Dark Roast coffee, the QSR took the notion of "dark" seriously.

This story appears in the May 2015 issue of strategy.

Gold: Brand New! 

Even with 78% share of the country’s QSR brewed coffee market, Tim Hortons’ customer loyalty was being challenged by the desire to taste newer and darker blends offered by competitors.

The average Canadian today drinks more than one blend, so Tim Hortons decided to launch its first new coffee in 50 years and call it Dark Roast. The brand and JWT wanted to get customers to try it for the first time by introducing a new take on the blind taste test.

If one of the five senses is removed, all other senses are heightened. With this insight, Tim Hortons decided to conduct the taste test in complete darkness. The idea was that if people’s taste senses were heightened, they would be able to truly appreciate the new Dark Roast blend.

The goal was to show real customers experiencing the coffee, so they wrapped a local Tim Hortons in black and as people gathered, the brand invited some of them to go inside and “Get into the Dark.”

Their confusion, nervousness and excitement was captured on film, with interior cameras outfitted with infrared night-vision technology. The footage was then used to create unique English and French videos of the stunt, and Tim Hortons also promoted the new blend through a mix of out-of-home billboards, TV and radio spots throughout September last year. In addition, a 90-second TV spot was broadcast during the Emmys in August, driving the audience online for more content.

Within days of the launch, the online videos surpassed one million views. In the end, there were more than 2.6 million English video views and 272,768 French video views. User engagement on Facebook and YouTube garnered 39,490 likes, comments and shares, and the average amount of time spent viewing the video was 1:25 (77% of total video length). In Canada, #TimsDark was the number two trending hashtag on Twitter the day of the product launch, with more than 68.5 million impressions and more than 6,400 mentions on Twitter.


Advertiser: Tim Hortons
Agency: JWT Canada
Chief creative and integration officer: Brent Choi
CDs: Ryan Spelliscy, Paul Wales
AD: Dan Bache
CW: Henry Park
Producer: Elana Olavesen
Account team: Darrell Hurst, Renee Ray, Cameron Stark
Director: Neil Tardio / Partners Film Company
Post-production: Alter Ego
Editor: Geoff Ashenhurst / Married to Giants
Music: Tyson Kuteyi / Tattoo Sound & Music
Media agency: Mindshare