Tims plans to ‘supercharge’ its advertising

If it feels like you’re seeing a lot of Tim Hortons advertising these days, you could be seeing even more in the months ahead. The company announced this week that it plans to boost its ad spend as part of a larger $80 million investment to help build the brand.

Tims says it will use the money to “supercharge” advertising highlighting menu improvements, as well as the continued enhancement of what it called the “digital guest experience,” most notably the Tims Rewards program.

In a release, the coffee chain said the investment will provide a “substantial increase” in advertising through the rest of the year, “all intended to highlight taste and quality, great value for money and continuing to strengthen the love that Canadians have for the Tim Hortons brand.”

The company has said that 2021 will be all about the “Back to Basics” approach it first announced in 2020, with an emphasis on core menu items like coffee, doughnuts and breakfast.

This year has already seen the introduction of a revamped dark roast coffee, Craveables lunch sandwiches and the replacement of the omelette-style egg patty in its breakfast sandwiches with freshly cracked eggs. The corporate investment will support awareness of these launches, the company said.

The incorporation of freshly cracked eggs in its breakfast menu has been one of Tims’ main advertising pushes in recent weeks, which has led to some playful chiding from McDonald’s Canada, one of Tims’ main breakfast competitors.

It started with McDonald’s changing its Twitter bio to read “Servin’ freshly cracked eggs since 1976,” followed by a March 8 tweet reading “Which came first…the Breakfast Sandwich or the Freshly Cracked Egg?” accompanied by a thoughtful emoji and the message “LOL jk glad we solved that dilemma in 1976.”


At the same time, a vocal contingent of Canadians are speaking out against the new eggs, even launching a Change.org petition called “Bring Back the Tims Egg Patty,” which refers to the new eggs as “freshly cracked mutiny” and calls them “gross, rubbery, and stringy.” To date, it has amassed more than 5,500 signatures.

The breakfast sandwich market has emerged as a significant battleground for QSRs in recent years, with a 2019 report by NPD Group pegging annual sales in Canada at $700 million. The report noted that QSRs have contributed to this growth through the continued introduction of new sandwiches and “innovative spin-offs,” including wraps, bagels and pastries.

Despite the pro-patty pushback, Tims president Axel Schwan said the company is seeing “meaningful sales contributions” from breakfast sandwiches, and that the company continues to see improvements in overall brand perception. In a release, Schwan noted that guest satisfaction has “grown significantly” as the company has worked to simplify and improve the quality of menu items and improve speed of service.

Tim Hortons ranked sixth overall on the 2020 BrandZ ranking of the top 40 most valuable Canadian brands, with a brand value of US$6.7 billion. It also ranked first on the report’s Brand Contribution scale, which measures the influence of brand alone on its financial value.

The company also plans to increase advertising contributions by its restaurant owners by 0.5% of sales, which it says will lead to a “sustained, increased level of investment,” in advertising, community and digital initiatives in 2022 and beyond.

Tim Hortons has been increasingly with working Miami-based creative agency Gut for its advertising, with the agency opening a new Toronto office this month. Gut has produced acclaimed—and slightly edgy—work for Burger King, Tims’ sister company in Restaurant Brands International, that is starkly different to the Canadiana-heavy approach that has long characterized Tims’ marketing.

The pandemic and the lockdown had a significantly detrimental effect on Tim Hortons’ operations last year, with its 4,949 locations reporting system-wide sales of US$5.5 billion for the year ending Dec. 31, down from US$6.7 billion in the previous year.

At the same time, Tims continues to see growth within its digital portfolio. The company says that monthly active users of its app have grown five-fold since its 2018 launch, with about one-third of all Canadian adults using the Tims Rewards loyalty program in the past 18 months. Tims said that the investment will support Tims Rewards as well as other “strategic digital initiatives.”

“The efforts behind our Back to Basics plan are starting to deliver results,” said Restaurant Brands International CEO Jose Cil in the release. “The plan focuses on building an experienced, talented and stable leadership team, investing in product quality, becoming an industry leader in the digital guest experience, delivering great value for money, and continuing to build our strong, iconic brand in communities across Canada.”

Chris Powell