Could a loyalty play put Roll Up the Rim back on track?

Tim Hortons' decades-old contest missed expectations, but a more digital- and data-led approach could give it a shot in the arm.

Tim Hortons has plans to change up its signature Roll Up the Rim contest, after parent company Restaurant Brands International directed some of the blame for its weak quarterly sales towards the program earlier this week.

Q1 2019 same-store sales fell 0.6 % at Tim Hortons, well shy of analyst projections of near 2% growth. According to company president Alex Macedo, this was largely because Tim’s “biggest promotion in a competitive environment didn’t work.” Last year, the QSR also saw a dip in its Q1 results (0.3% drop in sales growth); that year, RBI chief executive Daniel Schwartz acknowledged supplier issues with Roll Up the Rim, though didn’t offer further details and didn’t explicitly blame it for the decline. That year, the chain had accidentally printed a batch of “blank cups,” which were circulating in Albert and the Maritimes.

In February of this year, Roll Up the Rim returned, buttressed by increased spend behind multiple digital spots, out-of-home executions and a more robust social play, focused on humourous spots portraying the contest as a serious sport. Prior to this year’s contest launch, it also released a more emotive spot tied to the program as part of its relaunched “True Stories” platform. The bolstered marketing approach was not the only investment Tim Hortons made in Roll Up the Rim, an area where the company had typical focused on more tactical marketing at the store level. The company amended the program to include more (and different) prizes and a longer run time – but, at least according to the company, the efforts did not drive results.

Today, Tim Hortons announced the first contest offering through its new loyalty program, giving members a chance to win a trip to this year’s Stanley Cup final. According to retail analyst and founder of The Retail Advisors Network, Bruce Winder, integrating Roll Up The Rim with the loyalty offering as well could be the shot in the arm Tim Hortons is looking for. Tims launched the offering after this year’s contest concluded, but now that it is available, utilizing it in the future would help it to gather data and to make its biggest, longest-running promotion more in tune with today’s changing customer.

Beyond the additional insights first-party loyalty data could provide about the way customers experience the contest, Winder adds that it could help Tims offer more personalized rewards, or at least offer a more flexible prize structure by awarding loyalty points that can be redeemed for whatever prizes they’d like. That’s something that plays to consumer trends generally, as well as in the loyalty space specifically. Winder says that younger customers especially are demanding products they can curate themselves.

“[Tim Hortons] needs to have a mix of old and new approaches as they appeal to a wide range of age groups from seniors to Gen Z,” Winder says.

Winder adds that by taking a more digital approach more generally, Tim Hortons will also assuage environmental concerns regarding lids and single-use cups and plastics. An increasingly pressing consumer concern across sectors, the issue as it relates to Roll Up the Rim has been getting traction through a Calgary student-led petition, calling on the CEO of Restaurant Brands International to join the “#BetterCup” movement, an initiative led by competitor Starbucks to work with other QSRs to create cups that are more easily recyclable (the campaign has already amassed nearly 172,000 signatures. In 2016, an effort to “give reasuable mug users an equal chance to win” didn’t gain nearly as much traction, with just over 19,300 signatures.

For older customers who might be adverse to using an app to play, Winder suggests the program could also be tied to point of sale systems so that when a customer buys something it “automatically pops up a win.”

According to the non-profit organization Zero Waste Canada, 14 billion cups of coffee are consumed in Canada annually, 35% of which are grabbed to go — mostly in the form of single-use cups, which represents, according to estimates, more than 35,000 tonnes of paper.

Back on the prize front, Roll Up the Rim prizes could become more experiential in nature, such as travel or activity based. This, Winder says, reflects current trends in consumer spending, which has been focused on more on “experiences” over material goods in recent years.