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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!

Twitter + TV = Better Entertainment

Jeff Probst and CBS get Twitter in a way that very few do.

Image linked from: http://mikesbloggityblog.com

I’m a big Survivor fan. Been watching since my wife (then girlfriend) convinced me to watch the finale of the Australia season (#2). Seen every episode of every season since then, and it never gets old.

That being said, this season (#21 if you’re keeping track) has added a completely new element to the experience of watching this show: Jeff Probst, the long-serving and exceptionally entertaining host of the show, live-Tweets with fans during the show.

For the past few episodes, he’s done this, and it’s added a new layer of insight in to what is the longest running ‘reality show’ in history. Imagine if you could sit on the couch right next to the director of your favourite movie AS you’re watching it. Yeah, it’s THAT cool.

For example, tonight I found out that Jeff gets to keep the torch-snuffers from each season, he accidentally smashed a vote urn during a lighting rehearsal, and that he thinks Ralph telling everyone about the hidden idol was a huge mistake. Now granted, if you’re not a fan you’re probably saying “So what?”. But if you ARE a fan, you know how interesting these little bits of info are. Now you’ll likely start thinking about other shows that you watch, and what little bits of info the host or actors might have that you might find really interesting. See how this adds a new level of entertainment to the whole ‘TV’ experience?

What Jeff Probst and CBS have done is recognize the potential for connecting with their already-loyal fans and making them feel like they’re very nearly part of the show. Which, of course, they are. Without fans a show doesn’t get past the first season. By having a host who clearly loves what he does, and allowing him to connect with the fans of the show while it airs, they’re allowing the ‘Survivor’ experience to be enhanced by having ‘behind-the-scenes’ comments sent out in real-time to everyone who wants to know more about the show. This kind of bonus material is usually reserved for ‘special edition’ DVD’s or two-hour post-season specials. Now you get it instantaneously, and for free.

What this clearly illustrates is the passion that both Jeff and CBS have for the show, which in turn will take already devoted fans and turn them in to raving evangelists. They recognize that by engaging with their fans they increase the amount of entertainment that they can jam in to a TV show’s time slot.

Businesses can learn something from this example. Sure, social media is great at improving your SEO, generating brand awareness, and all those other good things. But what social media is EXCEPTIONAL at is taking an already strong relationship with your biggest fans and making that relationship essentially indestructible. If you give your advocates and enthusiasts more than they expect, they will sing your praises even louder than they already do. Just something to think about.