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How Tim Hortons hit a home run combining TV and social media.

by Jonathan Barrick

imageMonday night saw one of the greatest examples of brilliant branding combining with TV product placement and social interaction. The iconic Canadian brand Tim Hortons appeared on How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) as part of a long-running gag on the show, and the results are tremendous.

It’s an elaborate story, but it all comes together in the end, trust me.

Tim Hortons has appeared before on the show. One of the characters, Robin, played by real-life-Canadian Cobie Smulders, is a Canadian living in New York who spent her teenage years in Canada as one of it’s biggest pop stars, Robin Sparkles.

In this particular episode, her fiancee Barney, played by the brilliant Neil Patrick Harris, travels to Canada in hopes of discovering a terrible secret from Robins past, which he attempts to uncover while interrogating her ex-boyfriends at a Tim Hortons coffee shop.


At this time it’s revealed that the entire story of Robin Sparkles’ dark past can be learned by watching an episode of ‘Underneath the Tunes’ from MuchMusic, Canada’s answers to ‘Behind the Music’ and MTV, respectively. After obtaining a copy of the show, Barney and the remaining friends watch it, uncovering more details including the epic fall from stardom when Sparkles becomes an obsessed stalker and changes from pop princess to angry grunge rocker.

‘Underneath the Tunes’ also features a slew of cameos from famous Canadian stars of all types, from Rush frontman Geddy Lee, to 90210 star Jason Priestly, and Full House comedian Dave Coulier. All of them reminisce about the fall of Robin Sparkles, and Steven Page from the band Barenaked Ladies makes the powerful statement that:

“To this day, you ask any Canadian where they were when Robin Sparkles lost it, not only can they tell you which Tim Hortons they were in, but what donut they were eating. Me? Wawa, Ontario. Blueberry Fritter.”

We then hear from each cameo star, from Alex Trebek to Luc Robitaille, their Tim’s location and donut. By far the most memorable was Jason Priestley, who was so distraught that he:

“Crammed a Timbit in to a Strawberry Vanilla and invented ‘The Priestley’. Should’ve been the best day of my life.”


Now, this in and of itself was easily enough to get people fired up and talking about the show on Twitter, with #himym and #robinsparkles hashtags trending, as well as people posting their own #robinsparkles TIm Hortons & donut stories. (Yes, I did too. And for the record, it was Barrie, Ontario. Honey Cruller.)

Now for the ‘social’ part. First, they posted a clip from the show on their Facebook page with all the great Tim Horton’s references, which generated tons of comments, likes, and shares. They also got in to the conversation on Twitter, responding to mentions and talking with fans.


Here’s the link to their Facebook video: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=331151936984294

But the best part? They then posted this picture:



They actually created ‘The Priestley’. Jason himself responded with admiration, Cobie Smulders clearly wants one of her own. And fans went nuts.



Everything came together flawlessly. Tim Hortons took ownership of all the stereotypes about their brand, and of Canadians, and showed that they love to laugh about them as much as anyone else in front of a massive North American audience. The stars who made cameos had tons of fun with this appearance, I’m sure. HIMYM undoubtedly got a boost in viewership due to all the chatter and positive mentions happening.

This is a perfect example of what brands can accomplish by having a real personality, being proud of it, and HAVING FUN WITH IT.

I give Tim Hortons a perfect 5-Timbit rating for this brilliant display of being awesome.

Legen – wait for it…….dary!

Tim Hortons, This is a Mistake – Renaming Hot Cup Sizes

by Jonathan Barrick


This morning on my way in to the office I was informed at my local Tim Hortons that they would be changing the names of ALL of their hot cup sizes. The reason for this change is evidently the introduction of a new 24oz cup size.

What Tim Hortons did would seem somewhat logical to many. Since their previous largest size cup was called the ‘extra large’, they took the new 24oz cup and called THAT the ‘extra large’. Each subsequently smaller cup took the name of the next smaller size. ie: Medium became Small, Large became Medium, and so on.

The thing is…

Tim Hortons is a Canadian institution. It is the morning ritual of millions of Canadians, and is so ingrained in our culture, we snicker when visitors to our country feel compelled to ask what on earth a ‘Double Double’ is.

People are so accustomed to ordering a certain thing at their Tim Hortons, that having to adjust such a strong habit they’ve not changed EVER will likely be a source of frustration. Not only that, but by show of hands, how many people here know exactly what size their family, friends and co-workers drink? WOW! That’s a lot of hands.

Example: You work at a place with a small group of other coffee drinkers. Most of them like Tim’s coffee, and there just so happens to be one located a couple of blocks from your place of business. There’s a morning routine that occurs, without fail, every day. At 10am, you each rock-paper-scissors to see who’s going to make the coffee run. You lose the match, and so you don your coat and hat and venture out in to the world to obtain the mid-morning fix for your crew.

But lo! When you arrive you are greeted with a peculiar situation. None of the sizes match up to the order you’ve been placing every morning for a decade. Tragedy! Do you think your co-workers would want the larger sizes? Or the sizes you’ve been accustomed to consuming? If you use the same names, then you’ve got everyone a bigger cup (at higher cost) than what they really wanted. If you use the new names, you need to process a downsizing conversion in your head for every drink. And each of your co-workers hits the same problem the first time it becomes their turn to make the order under the new system.

This stinks.

Now, I realize this is hardly something to go nuts over. It’s just inconvenient, and doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Here’s what most of us probably would have done:

Adding a new bigger cup size? Hmm…. Well the biggest we have is called the ‘Extra Large’. We could rename every cup in the lineup, thus creating confusion out in the marketplace as to what you’re actually ordering. Or, we could take the one, singular, solitary new cup size and give it a unique name, keeping everything else intact. We could call it the Mega, Jumbo, Super, Max, etc. The list could really be quite long. There’s no shortage of synonyms for ‘big’.

Anyway, that’s my little rant. This new cup addition could have been done in a better, easier to understand, and more seamless way. But now, beginning on Monday January 23rd, LOTS of people will have a morning that’s not what they expect. We’ll adapt, sure, but this is one situation where it was totally and completely unnecessary.