Is the Tim Horton’s brand at risk? How can they re-kindle the Love?

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market


Said with Canadian pride, Tim Horton’s is not just an emotional decision, it’s a personal one. How we feel about Tim’s is in part irrational. We are loyal, un-relenting, outspoken, and possessive. And we are OK to wait in a long line to get our double-double. Tim’s is still a Beloved Brand, but there are signs it might be getting tired and could be at risk at losing. The most Beloved Brands connect with their consumers in five common ways: a brand promise (positioning) consumers love, an emotional brand story (advertising) freshness (innovation), purchase moment and finally the experience (backed by the culture and operations).


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Over the last 20 years, Timmy’s had consistently nailed all five, which is what made it our most Beloved Brand.  But in the last few years, we are seeing slippage on the advertising and the customer experience.  We can see that in the stock price for Tim Horton’s. If you invested $10,000 in 2009, your money would have doubled in just 2 and 1/2 years–considering how badly the stock market was doing this would have been an ideal place for your money.  But since then, the stock has gained very little, and has basically been flat for the last 9 months. That’s not worthy of panic just yet, but from usually we see issues with Brand Health before we see issues of Brand Wealth. It seems that Tim’s has been so focused on the US expansion over the last two years, that they risk letting the brand slip in Canada.

Let’s use the five Brand Connectors to assess Tim Horton’s Brand Health:

  • The “comfortably Canadian” Brand Promise has been brilliant over the past 20 years, striking an emotional cord with our Canadiana more than any other brand. They have created a humble brand, with a simple comfortable menu.  Timbits-500x254It’s not the best food or coffee, but it’s comfortably predictable. People always point to how Tim’s coffee loses in blind taste tests. So would my mom’s dried out and burnt Roast Beef. But I love my mom’s roast beef, because I familiar with it, and it makes me feel comfortable. I’d grade the brand promise an A+.
  • As for the Brand Story, it is what has made the Brand, with deeply emotional and engaging advertising. Magical Canadian story telling at it’s best, whether an old woman walking up a hill or a grandfather at the hockey rink. What’s happened the last few years? Nothing. The last two great spots that connected with consumers were at the 2010 winter Olympics with the Sidney Crosby “wouldn’t it be great…” TV Ad and the other about an immigrant family arriving at a Canadian airport. Those spots made us proud to be Canadian and Tim’s owned that pride. But, the last few years, all I see are “cute” product spots, with a media plan completely void of the anthemic beautiful ads that made Tim’s a Canadian Icon. Please don’t show me how coffee is made. That’s completely off the brand character.  Tim’s has to return to using deeply emotional story telling to deliver the “comfortably Canadian” brand promise. I’d give the advertising an A+ for pre-2010, C+ since. I’d like to see Tim’s return to doing more ads like this one, a simple story about hockey, but beautifully told about a grandfather visiting the hockey arena to see his grandson play hockey:



  • As for Freshness, the innovation pipeline with Lemonade, breakfast sandwiches, grilled cheese, ice caps, maple donuts and oatmeal all delivering the “comfortably Canadian” brand promise.  Nothing wild, nothing crazy, very Tim’s. In terms of coffee, Tim’s has issues with McDonald’s which has an amazing coffee and a great trial strategy offering free coffee for a week. Tim Hortons vs McDonalds CanadaMost published blind taste tests show that McDonald’s clearly beats Tim’s. But improving the Tim’s coffee might be like changing the Coke formula. I’d rather Tim’s build on the comfortable taste of the Tim’s coffee linking it to memories. I’d give Tim’s an A- on innovation, lots of hits, a few flops.
  • The big gap I see “brewing” (pardon my pun) is the the purchase moment, where I am seeing a huge drop off.  The expansion utilizing the franchise model has created a dramatically inconsistent experience from one store to the next. I’m starting to hear a lot of horror stories from consumers. In my last 10 visits to Tim’s, I received friendly and polite service just once. (a shout out to the Aurora store where you feel good leaving)  Most times, the service is efficient, but completely impersonal. Rarely do you hear “please” and “thank you” from the staff. It’s not as polite as McDonald’s and not as friendly as Starbucks. If you want to deliver the brand promise of “comfortably Canadian” Tim’s needs to step it up on customer service to deliver that promise.  Polite and friendly are always free. Tim’s needs start by setting up customer service values, strategically aligned to the brand promise. They need to create action standards on service to hold franchisees accountable to delivering the brand promise. And they need to create a training program to help staff deliver the service values.  Until we see some improvement, the grade for Tim’s experience ranges from an F to an A+, due to inconsistencies. But overall, I’d give the Tim’s experience a D+.

So the report card for Tim’s looks like my grade 9 report card. A few A’s, a C+ and a stupid D+.  Most business people think “Brand” is what the Marketers do. And Culture should be left to Human Resources.  Everyone is responsible for Brand and Culture. Brand is not just about logos and ads, but is equally important internally where it acts as an internal beacon for everyone to follow. How does Tim Horton’s want their people to show up?  What behavior should be rewarded? If the Tim’s culture is not set up to deliver the brand promise, the risk is it all comes crashing down.  To read more on how Culture and Brand go together read:  Brand = Culture: How Culture can Help Your Brand Win

For the Tim’s brand succeed in the future and stay a Beloved Brand in Canada, they need to take that “Comfortably Canadian” Big Idea down to every part of their organization. There might be signs that the new CEO understands what’s happening at the store level.  He recently stated: “Future battles are not going to be won, in my view, with who has the best strategy or who has the best innovation. The companies that will win will be the companies that can execute flawlessly at the store level.”

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It’s time for Tim Horton’s to step it up on Service

Here is a powerpoint presentation on “What makes a Beloved Brand”  Click on the arrow below to follow:


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.

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Some of the best Christmas Ads I’ve seen

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

Christmas is a great time to drive home the connection between consumers and the brand.  But not everyone can pull it off.  You likely need to have an established love for your brand already or it would come across as lacking authenticity.  Brands here like Coke, Kellogg’s, Budweiser, Tim Horton’s, Canadian Tire and even Target have strong emotional connectivity that they can use at this time of year.   But the boss of Christmas season has to be John Lewis who every year comes out with something huge.  Some get too wrapped up in making sure they sell product at the same time.  That’s a complete turn-off.

John Lewis

The best Christmas ads I’ve ever seen are from John Lewis, the department store in the UK.  They use beautiful music, a movie-like storyline that demonstrates the beauty of gift giving, stretched out over 90 seconds.    No words are needed to tell the story.  They are not loaded with so much branding that they would turn you off before inviting you in.  They tug at the heart and bring a reminder of what the season is all about:  the gift of Giving. 

I think this is the best one in the John Lewis (2011) series so far, with a nice twist at the end.

This is also a great one from 2010


And finally, you can see the one from 2009, which really shows that over the 3 years, they’ve been able to create this ownable idea for themselves.


But then, this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad is a bit different.  As people have started to watch for the next great John Lewis Christmas ad (myself included), I guess they have to push the creativity, but this isn’t quite what I was hoping for.  A bit too dark for me, a bit disconnected from the John Lewis brand or the series of ads over the past 5 years.  While a nice story, I think it’s a miss.  But the next one is only 11 months away.


I may be wrong, so if you love the new John Lewis ad, tell me you love it.


Coca Cola, the brand who came up with the look of how we see Santa Claus, makes a special ad every Christmas, to recreate the magic of Christmas.  Here’s a few great ones over the years:

From Argentina, here’s a brilliant take on spreading the joy of the season.  It’s a powerful message from a brand that has always owned Christmas.  


A very wholesome TV ad by Coke where life takes place in a snow globe.


And here’s a cute one…


The Budweiser Clydesdales were first introduced to the public in 1933, to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition.   August A. Busch Jr. presented the hitch as a gift to his father.   And that hitch proceeded to carry the first case of post-Prohibition beer.  Every Christmas you’ll see a team of Clydesdales pulling a case, a great icon of the American beer brand.


Not technically a Christmas ad because it air during the Super Bowl, but Clydesdales always make you think of Christmas.  This ad was aired just a few months and will give you goose bumps even a decade later.

Canadian Tire

This is your classic sentimental Christmas ad, talking about family.  It’s done very well by retailer Canadian Tire.   They told a nice story, about the modern family.

Tim Horton’s

This ad will make you cry just a little bit.  A nice touch of reality about being a parent from the old school to the new school.


A pretty darn whole ad, but pretty darn cute.  We do need a bit of wholesome serotonin at this time of year.


The Target lady makes me laugh every time.  While everyone else is using kids in a tear-jerking sentimental way, Target uses humor and makes the art of getting the deal the idea.   Perfect fit for their value based positioning.  This Target Lady in red is adorable, representing the cheesiest of shoppers in all of us.




What’s the best Christmas ad you’ve seen?




If you are in the mood to see other great advertising, here’s a few other stories:


To see a training presentation on getting better Advertising: 


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The Most Beloved Coffee Brand: What’s your Call?

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

Starbucks or Tim’s?   If you’re in Canada, it’s clearly Tim Horton’s.   if you’re a Starbucks fan, you’re likely pissed right now and hopefully ready to engage.  But I imagine there are not a slew of Coffee Time loyalists ready to pounce.

What Tim’s has done so well, is they have  turned a lonely little donut shop into a brand envy.  Back in 1980, there were no signs of greatness, evidenced by this TV Ad: Functional.  Just another donut shop.

Brands travel along a pathway from indifferent to like it to love it, most brands getting stuck.  At the INDIFFERENT stage, it is basic needs and “it will do”.   You never see a line up at Coffee Time.   Tim’s has reached LOVE IT.  It’s possessive, outspoken and unrelenting–willing to add 15 minutes to their morning drive.

Yes Tim’s has very good coffee and good quality in everything they do.  But it’s more than that.  Tim’s layers in deeply emotional connections to the community, into the lives of families and into the Canadian mystique.

Kids play in Tim Bits hockey, at lunch people go on a “Timmies Run”.  The TV ad from last year featuring Sidney Crosby showing him as a Tim Bit player all the way up to current gave you goose bumps as a Canadian watching it.   Wow.  

Media buy is a gentle mix of new product ads with deeply emotional.    Goosebumps, tears, exciting, all comes back to building that emotional connection.   The spot in the Olympics made me proud to be Canadian. 

They’ve continued expansion plans, across Canada and now into NYC.  For you, is it the coffee, is it comfort or the Canadiana or is a bit of all three that keep you coming back?   Getting to the Love It stage drives real brand value.  The stock price has nearly doubled the past 5 years going up from $26 up to $48.