Tim Hortons develops a new framework to tell its stories

The QSR is deploying an $80 million investment with a focus on real people to re-spark a deep connection with Canadians.

In March, Restaurant Brands International announced that it would invest $80 million into Tim Hortons’ digital and advertising efforts in Canada in support of its “Back To Basics” plan.

Adopted prior to the pandemic, the plan is focusing on Tims’ “core offering” of coffee, donuts and sandwiches. While the QSR has experimented with adding buzzy offerings like espresso-based drinks and Beyond Meat burgers to the menu, it had found that consumers didn’t go to Tims for those things. The plan also features a particular focus on its core Canadian market, after several years  international expansion.

While some of that $80 million is going to digital efforts like its app, loyalty program and new drive-thru technology, advertising is also a big part of it. And to that end, Tims has established a creative framework that allows it to better tell the stories behind its products and brand – and that brings all of its work together more cohesively.

The framework, developed by AOR Gut, was designed to make “a look for Tims that is ownable, contemporary and stitches all of our different work together,” says Hope Bagozzi, who was named CMO of Tim Hortons in early 2020.

“[Gut] came up with this idea built off of an old campaign around true stories that Tims had done years ago,” she says. “There’s a wealth of stories that exist because we’re so ubiquitous across Canada and reach so many guests. They said we’re sitting on a goldmine of actual truth.”

Gut was founded in Miami in 2018 by the previous heads of David, an agency that had earned renown for its work with RBI’s Burger King. Later that year it began working on Tim Hortons, and it opened its Toronto office in April to have an outpost closer to the client’s home base and help implement the new framework in a way that worked with the “Back to Basics” plan, with its heavy focus on the Canadian market.

Previous efforts for the “True Stories” campaign Bagozzi references were focused on heartwarming, Tims-centric stories the past, but the new framework Gut developed is focused on telling stories happening right now, but still featuring real individuals. In creative for its introduction of fresh-cracked eggs, for example, the restaurant’s culinary lead explains why it has made the improvement, while a restaurant owner describes the change as “game changing.” Feedback from real customers is also included.

This same model is used in other product improvement spots – including the second relaunch of its dark roast blend, which acknowledged the company’s two previous misfires. The spot accomplished a few things at the same time: it introduced the new blend, reinforced its focus on quality in the coffee it sold and acknowledged that previous dark roasts were not up to the standard.

“When you’re honest and put it out there and are a bit vulnerable, I think you get reactions both ways – people who appreciate that and people who don’t understand why you’d do it,” says Bagozzi. “We got quite a lot of credit for our honesty around dark roast.”

While Tims’ strategy is focused on its tried-and-true offerings, the new framework is also used to introduce products that are new but still fit with consumer expectations about Tims, such as in the latest spot from the QSR for its Real Fruit Quenchers product. Presented with the same franchisee insight and customer feedback, the spot situates the new fruit juices firmly within Tim’s product offering (one of the Fruit Quenchers flavours also happens to be peach, which has long been a customer favourite among the QSR’s non-coffee products).

While a big focus of the new framework has thus far been on product changes and improvements, all the spots ladder up to a brand that is focused on the customers it serves and the communities they live in, and seem to be laying the groundwork for bigger brand stories. Bagozzi says the ultimate goal of the framework is to help people “get to know Tims a little differently” and bring Canadians as close to the brand as they have been in the past.

“What I love that the framework can do is tell some of the brand stories, which I think is one of the magical things about the Tims brand – the connections that happen in the community,” she says. “It’s designed to lift the veil a little bit and show the things we’re working on to make the products better for people, to make our environmental footprint better for them, and to do the right thing and raise money and give back to communities because we care.”

To that end, the CSR has also been showing some of its more community-focused efforts during the pandemic, namely in using a Tims truck to make coffee deliveries to all sorts of frontline workers. That work is one part of the new “Tims for Good” platform, a strategy that lives within the new framework to bring its various CSR efforts under a single, unified banner.