CASSIES Silver: Tim Hortons goes dark

Tim's takes on the competition by adding a new blend.

This story appears in the February/March 2016 issue of strategy.

Silver: Off to a Good Start

Situation Analysis:

Over three quarters of the coffees sold to Canadians outside their homes was from Tim Hortons. However, during the previous seven years, that share had been eroding as competitors entered what was a flat market. This broader range of competitors was changing Canadians’ coffee tastes as people became accustomed to drinking more than one blend while the new language around, and appreciation for, coffee piqued consumers’ interests. Consumer loyalty to an iconic Canadian brand was being challenged, while the 50-year heritage of a “Double-Double” was a potential impediment to a radical response. A Dark Roast blend was chosen for launch as it was the most popular and growing blend in the market and was also the most logical taste evolution for the brand.

Insight & Strategy:

Dark Roast had to halt share declines and account for at least 10% of Tim Horton’s coffee sales to be a sustainable offering that signalled Tims was changing for the better. The target market was not true coffee aficionados, but those just starting out on their coffee taste adventure, people who most often described Starbucks coffee as tasting and smelling “burnt”. This consumer was looking for a “safe adventure.” Creatively, a brand that had been doing coffee one way for 50 years needed to convince people it had a great new product without denigrating the existing offer.


Launched in August 2014 and supported through to July 2015 nationally by a spend of over $5 million, the Dark Roast launch took away people’s sense of sight to enhance the core “coffee senses” of taste and smell by giving actual consumers a chance to try the product in the dark. A Tim Hortons restaurant was wrapped all in black, enticing consumers inside its pitch-black interior to be filmed testing Dark Roast. The campaign ran across TV, OOH, sampling booths, in-store signage and digital, all aligned under the “Embrace the Dark” call to action.


Dark Roast sales surpassed the volume objective of 10% of coffee sales, growing to representing over 13% of the mix by selling over 85 million cups in the first year. The Dark Roast launch drove the first growth in the out-of-home coffee market (+0.99%) in over two years, while Tim Hortons’ coffee portfolio also increased sales by 0.94%, a net gain versus 2014 of over four million servings of coffee annually. Dark Roast sales alone during the first full year of launch represented over half of all McDonald’s coffee sales, increasing the sales gap between the two for the first time since 2012 to over 6.5 to one. Over 80% of consumers heard of the product, and advertising recall exceeded 60% in English Canada and 70% in French Canada.

Cause & Effect:

The investment in the program was not significantly different than any other previous product launch and the Tim Hortons overall investment in coffee support remained very stable versus previous years, while significantly below that of the main competitor, McDonald’s. Pricing was in line with the regular coffee and launched without discounts. Distribution was across the full store network of over 3,500 stores.


Client: Tim Hortons

Chief brand and marketing officer: Peter Nowlan

VP, brand strategy and guest experience: Glenn Hollis

VP, category marketing: Dave McKay

Senior director, beverages: Dana Brochu

Senior manager, marketing communications: Karen Paradine

Director, marketing communications: Joanne Stewart

Agency: J. Walter Thompson

Chief creative & integration officer: Brent Choi

SVP, CD: Ryan Spelliscy

VP, CD: Matt Syberg-Olsen

CD: Paul Wales

AD: Dan Bache

CW: Henry Park

Senior producer: Elana Olavesen

EVP, managing director: Darrell Hurst

Account director: Renee Ray

Account supervisor: Cameron Stark

Director: Neil Tardio

Production company: Partners Film Company

Post-production: Alter Ego

Editing: Married to Giants (Geoff Ashenhurst)

Music: Tattoo Sound & Music (Tyson Kuteyi)

Media agency: Mindshare