Tim Hortons finds artful ways to celebrate donuts

The QSR commissioned 10 artists from across Canada to depict customer favourites as it continues to elevate its core offering.


To celebrate National Donut Day, Tim Hortons harnessed the creative talents of 10 artists from across the country to capture the essence of one of its signature products.

“If there are two days that Tim Hortons should be celebrating, it’s National Donut Day and National Coffee Day,” Youri Hollier, director of digital and social media for the restaurant chain, told strategy. “Being such a leader in the space, we wanted to use the day as an opportunity to celebrate not just our donuts, but these artists’ interpretations of what they mean to them.”

The focus on donuts fits with a recent focus at the QSR to focus more on elevating its core offering. After experimenting with things like higher-end espresso beverages and Beyond Meat hamburgers, the QSR found that consumers looked to it for things like donuts, coffee and breakfast sandwiches, making those the focus of turnaround plans.

The pieces of art – 10 unique depictions of “classic” Tim Hortons donuts including honey dip, chocolate glazed and old fashioned – were shared as part of a social campaign to celebrate National Donut Day on Friday. The restaurant chain ran a giveaway featuring the creations, with 10 Canadians receiving a framed print of one of the pieces in exchange for sharing and responding to its social media post.

To support the campaign, Tims Rewards members were also offered free donuts with the purchase of any beverage through the chain’s mobile app. The campaign was developed by creative agency Gut, with Mighty Hive handling media.

The works were based on research that Tim Hortons conducted in late 2020, Hollier says. In that research, “regionalized elements came to light” – namely, that while Boston cream donuts were a universal favourite across the country, individual regions also had their own favourite donuts.

“This was a really playful opportunity to showcase what resonates with audiences, but more importantly, I think this was a way to show the breadth of our donuts and celebrate our hero product in a pretty unique and novel way,” he explains.

That’s going to be something Canadians see a lot of going forward. Tim Hortons recently announced a $80 million investment to “supercharge” its advertising and digital platforms in Canada as part of its “Back To Basics” strategic plan.

While parent company RBI reported a 4.9% decline in system-wide sales in Q1, that’s an improvement from a 9.9% decline in the same period the year before. Digital also represented 31% of Tims sales, which the company pointed to as a sign of strength for its mobile app and digital efforts, and was touted as a source of incremental growth going forward.