The Power of a Story – Tim Hortons Advertising

Ross Simmonds

A winning Tim Hortons Roll up the Rim to Win cup

Tim Hortons

All around Canada people are wearing their red mitts and red hats glowing with National Pride. With the 2010 Winter Olympics underway, Canadians of all walks of life are showing their patriotic side. Tim Hortons, Canadas biggest Coffee and Bakery chain is one of Canadas greatest brands. Tim Hortons is known for its Hockey oriented commercials but has recently begun to implement advertising that shows Canadas diversity while showing the importance of family.

The most recent commercial from Tim Hortons shows an African man preparing for the arrival of his wife and two kids. After a touching moment at the airport we realize  that the man and his family have been separated for some time. As this scene comes to an end he hands his wife a cup of Tim Hortons Coffee and gives her and the kids some winter coats. Ultimately, the story is told to perfection – Here is the 90 second spot…

The Art of Storytelling

A Main Character

While this may seem a bit elementary to some, its an element that is often overlooked in advertisements trying to tell a story.  You have 30-140 seconds to make the viewers connect with the characters; its difficult to get them to connect with one – Why try two? In this Advertisement we are immediately introduced to the Husband/Father and after watching him we establish a connection. Once this connection is made our emotions are in the hands of the storyteller.

Emotional Appeal

This advertisement does a great job at triggering emotions. From the response I seen on twitter and from the comments on YouTube, I’m sure some of you are probably in tears right now. Whether you can relate to the story or if you simply are touched by it, the story is powerful. There are eight basic universal emotions that a story can trigger; joy, surprise, acceptance, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, anticipation and anger. A story that is able to trigger any of these emotions has a strong possibility of being remembered as our emotions are directly related to chemicals in the brain.

A Climax Worth Waiting For

Sometimes Advertisers leave us expecting a big bang that they never deliver on. An advertisement that is able to take the short amount of time and tell a story and get across its message effectively is a story worth telling. The suspense builds up at the beginning of the ad when he purchases the jackets and then the coffee – The climax is when the doors open and he sees his family. This moment, is  what the audience was waiting for. Andresult its the most memorable part of the Ad.

Not a Story For Everyone

This Story wont resonate with everyone. But that’s the point. As soon as you start trying to be all things for all people you begin to slide more towards mediocrity than anything. The Story begins to be boring and we wonder whether or not we’ve heard it before. The story that Tim Hortons is telling with this Advertising is one that will resonate with people who appreciate the value of family and multiculturalism in Canada.

While Tim Hortons told a Great Story. Some would argue that any coffee shop could run this Ad effectively and trigger emotions. While I agree that any coffee shop could have replaced Tim Hortons in the Ad and triggered emotions; I don’t think that the story would be resonate as well. Seeing that Tim Hortons is one of Canadas most recognized brands; it has a long history with Canadian culture. Tim Hortons is also known for  positioning themselves as being a part of the family. For this reason, they can run this Ad in Canada better than any other coffee chain.

Whats your thoughts on the Ad? Did it resonate – Do you think Starbucks could do it?

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About Ross Simmonds

Ross Simmonds is a digital marketing strategist who has worked with everything from Fortune 500 companies to startups to drive results using digital marketing and technology.


  • […] The Power of a Story – Tim Hortons Advertising […]

  • That was a hell of a commercial.

  • Agreed… Do you think an American Brand (Starbucks) could pull it off in the US?

  • Corey Moore says:

    When I clicked that ad and watched it for the second time, it hit me no less. This time before the man was picking out winter coats I was teary, in anticipation of what was to come.
    This hits home for me based purely on my mind replacing that family with my own. Images rush into my head of picking up my Dad from the airport after being sent away for 6-12 months stints -“on course” as the military would say-. However I still enjoy the reference to the diverse culture, and the immigration that this country is founded on.
    I've never put much thought into Tim Hortons' hockey themed ads in the past. And while I enjoyed the bright tune and fun nature of their Road Trip commercial, it wasn't really the most memorable. This is an ad I hope makes it into a series and a good campagne for them.
    As for Starbucks, I'm sure they could put out the same commercial and it would hit me just as hard on the emotional front. But I'm not sure that it would have the same comforting “home” affect. As much as some of us hate to admit it, Tim Hortons is a household name that screams Canada without having to say a word.

  • Thats great, I appreciate you sharing your story, Corey. When its all said and done, I think people like you are exactly who Tim Hortons was targeting. While multiculturalism is a part of the advertisement the core message is “family.” This advertisement is more about the Tim Hortons brand and what it represents. Whether or not you'll go out and by a Tim Hortons coffee is just only part the big picture.

    Couldn't agree with you more that “Tim Hortons screams Canada without having to say a word.” They've done some great work in communities all around Canada and have positioned themselves as a through-and-through Canadian brand.

  • Agreed, a lot of canadian commercials showing their patriotic side. Little bit of a advertising gimmic, but I enjoy it. One of the best commercials I've seen from Tim's

  • Its definitely becoming a gimic throughout the Olympics – But none the less. One that is working for a lot of the big brands putting them out there. Thanks for the Comment, I agree with you – Definitely one of the best commercials Tims has put out in a while.

  • Laura says:

    As a Canadian woman who is in the process of sponsoring her West African husband, this commercial really hits home. This moment is what I am looking forward to, after the 18 months or so that Immigration Canada will put us through. (contrary to popular belief based on this commercial's YouTube comments, it is NOT easy for someone to immigrate here, even if they marry a Canadian!)
    I do not think it would have 1/10th the impact as a Starbucks commercial. This man has chosen to bring his family to the most incredible nation on earth, and he starts by giving her a Timmy's. It's almost as if she will become a real Canadian as soon as she has the first sip. That could never happen with Starbucks. (btw, I don't drink coffee, and rarely go to Tim's, but I appreciate all things Canadian)

  • Wow, thats great comment if I've ever seen one Laura! And an amazing story on top of everything else – Thanks for visiting the blog. The comments on the commercial definitely make it seem easy and knowing a few people who went through the process I know what they went through.

    I agree with your point about the impact being greater because its well, “Tims.” When someone walks into Starbucks I don't think they get an Patriotic feeling. With Tims however there's a connection between the brand and the Canadian culture. Appreciate your comment – Thanks for sharing your story and I'm happy to hear that you'll be able to hug your husband very soon.

  • […] telling. He tells his stories them in a way that Picasso would paint – You could say he makes art with […]

  • madsbunch says:

    This isl true emotional porn, and kind of double exploitative since it is designed to make the “Canadian feel good multiculturalist consumers” feel good about buying the coffee (like donating to a good cause, remembering the happily united, emotional black couple), and also explore the strong emotions of fear, hope, longing of newly landed immigrants. An appalling and exploitative way to earn some extra bugs. They should be forced to drop it.

  • madsbunch says:

    This isl true emotional porn, and kind of double exploitative since it is designed to make the “Canadian feel good multiculturalist consumers” feel good about buying the coffee (like donating to a good cause, remembering the happily united, emotional black couple), and also explore the strong emotions of fear, hope, longing of newly landed immigrants. An appalling and exploitative way to earn some extra bugs. They should be forced to drop it.

  • If by emotional porn you mean extremely effective and breath-taking…Then Yes, we agree. You lost me at the appalling and exploitative part though… The Ad is simply remarkable. It makes people feel good and makes people proud to be Canadian. Nothing appalling about it…

  • madsbunch says:

    Remember this add is made to sell more coffee, to make money. It is exactly the feelings of you feeling good and proud to be Canadian, that Tim Horton's exploit to sell more coffee. There is nothing wrong with the story as such (it is beautiful in itself), only the fact that is has one goal: For Tim Hortons to sell more coffee. And that is where the dishonesty regarding the strong emotions it evokes kick in, and that is what I dont like about it….

  • Solid Points – Yet, All advertisements are made to sell something, to make money or to generate buzz. They do this by creating demand. To create demand you start by catering to peoples wants. People want to be good Canadians. People want to be Patriotic – especially during the Winter Olympics. There is no dishonesty in this Ad. They are giving people a chance to fulfill these wants. Every time you walk into a Tim Hortons you're taking part in the Canadian culture. This Ad is just reminder.

  • Lucas Walker says:

    Could an American brand such as Starbucks pull it off in the US? Probably not, because Starbucks isn't nearly a part of national culture as Tim Hortons is in Canada. Is it emotionally exploitive of Tim Hortons appeal to being one of the first parts of Canadian culture? Absolutely not, because Tim's has become a part of Canadian culture. History is marked by corporations shaping and influencing culture, look at Canada, most of the land used to be owned by the Hudson's Bay Company – or how Ford shaped our neighbours to the south. Tim Hortons has become as much a part of Canadian culture as big winter coats and immigration. If you disagree that Tim's is a part of our culture and think it is just another company, read this from the Toronto Star's Random Acts of Kindness

    A friend’s eight-year-old son had a special request for his gifts for his ninth birthday.

    He came to her with the following note:

    Dear Soldier: Today is my birthday and instead of asking my friends and family to bring me gifts, I am asking them to bring a donation that I will use towards buying a Tim Hortons gift card so that you can enjoy a cup of coffee as much as my parents always do.

    Thank you for fighting for our freedom.

    We both sat with tears in our eyes, amazed that such a young child would independently make this request for his birthday.
    Debbie Upton, Toronto

  • Judi Samuels says:

    This is a fantastic ad. Will it resonate with everyone? Maybe not, but what it will do is showcase a part of Canadian culture that is indisputable… That because of our acceptance of other races/cultures, we can bring people together, we can bring families together. There is a tight link to Tim Horton's as a brand as it is a well known Canadian brand, but also because Tim Horton's is an integral part of the Canadian communities. The link to what we do as Canadians in terms of diversity and welcoming immigration is clear with Tim Horton's.

    And, that is why it wouldn't work for Starbucks. Not that Starbucks doesn't have a strong brand, and not that Starbucks doesn't have the ability to create emotions, but the Starbucks brand is not linked to a small community and the sheer fabric of the country. Starbucks could easily depict emotions by connecting people in different coffee shops together via an internet connection… You could create a story because Starbucks is the 3rd place. (Unlike Tim's – which is not a 3rd place, but an integral part of the community).

    Could an American brand do this… yes. I might argue that a Walgreen's could; maybe a Dunkin Donuts, and possibly a Krispy Kreme.

  • Thanks for the comment Judi! While I'm not so familiar with all of those American brands I'm pretty confident Walgreens could pull of an emotional ad. I think your idea about Starbucks using this type of Ad but using the internet/family connection is interesting. I have a feeling that an Ad like that could resonate with a lot of people from US to Canada. I haven't gone into a Starbucks in quite some time without seeing someone skyping with a friend or relative.

    Thanks again for the comment – Great thoughts and points.

  • Wow, thats amazing Lucas… Definitely shows the influence Tim Hortons has had on our culture. I agree with you 100% in saying that Tims can't exploit the Canadian Culture because well….They're so deeply rooted within it.

    Great points – Glad you stopped by…

  • […] knows that Tim Hortons owns the Coffee Market in Canada. They realize that the only way they can compete is to grab their users attention and give them […]

  • […] out advertisements because the majority of them are pointless and never compare to an ad that is memorable. Some would argue that the reason they don’t remember has nothing to do with the Ads, and […]

  • […] filled advertising is becoming more and more common in today’s market. From the Tim Horton’s advertisement that brought tears to many Canadians to this one. Emotional ads are becoming an […]

  • […] A powerful story has always been one of the most effective ways to find marketing success. As marketers, we purposely position our messages in ways that will evoke a variety of different emotions. To be blunt, Marketers love it when consumers are unhappy. Unhappiness is actually one of the driving factors behind successful marketing. […]

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