In Canada, Tim Hortons is a legitimate institution. Most people can’t start their day without stopping by the coffee and donut king of the north.
The fast-food giant is part of the cultural and physical landscape.
Canada is also home to Justin Bieber and his connections still run deep. When Bieber had the chance to collaborate with the iconic company he’s loved since he was a kid, it helped them bounce back from a disastrous 2020.
The Juggernaut That is Tim Hortons
If you haven’t heard of Tim Hortons, it’s like Canada’s Dunkin’ Donuts — but arguably bigger and with better food options.
If you’re from the Northeastern United States, you may have come across a Tim Hortons, especially if you’re in New York state. But the Canadian company has slowly spread out through the US and some parts of the world.
Similar to McDonald’s, Tim Hortons has humble origins. Tim Horton was a Canadian hockey player who played for multiple teams in the NHL. While still playing, he opened his first Tim Horton donut shop in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1964.
Serving coffee and donuts, the restaurant quickly took off. It was already a multi-million dollar franchise system by the late 60s. Horton was tragically passed away in a car accident in 1974, and his partner Ron Joyce took over.
This is when the company took off. The menu would change from just donuts and coffee to soups, sandwiches, and breakfast items. In the 90s, they became TDL Group Ltd. Also, in the 90s, they merged with Wendy’s.
In 2006, an IPO was offered. During this time, Tim Hortons overtook McDonald’s as Canada’s largest fast-food service operator. Tim Hortons also accounted for 22.6% of all fast-food revenue in Canada.
By 2013, they had over 4,300 locations around the world and revenues of nearly $800 million. In 2014, they merged with Burger King under the control of Restaurant Brands International — which also owns Popeyes — in a deal worth $11 billion. Revenue was over $4 billion in 2015. In 2016, it was $4.15 billion.
In 2018, they had nearly 5,000 locations in 14 different countries.
Despite the monumental growth, Tim Hortons remains pure Canadiana. It still feels like a local corner coffee shop.
Tim Hortons Takes a Hit
A certain global health crisis had a serious impact on most businesses. Restaurant chains like Tim Hortons were especially prone. This is a grab-and-run setup, and most revenue comes from drive-through orders and people picking up something quickly on the run.
Since everyone was stuck at home and not going to work, they didn’t need to stop at Tim Hortons as part of their daily routine. This caused a significant revenue hit.
This was a huge drop for the company, down by 11%. It was time to make a change, enhance their digital strategy, attract younger customers, and try to bounce back.
Bieber to the Rescue!
Regardless of how you feel about Justin Bieber, he is still an incredibly powerful person and brand. With 200 million followers online, anything he says can create an enormous impact.
One time, an off-hand tweet about not liking Tim Hortons’ new coffee cup lids created a tremendous response online from people who felt the same. The company adjusted the lids.
Maybe bringing Bieber on board could be an interesting collaboration for the company? He is Canadian, after all. Maybe there was something there?
The plan was to create a signature line of Bieber-inspired “Timbits.” You may know a Timbit as a donut-hole, but they’ve been an incredibly simple and successful product up here.
There are different stories as to who created the Timbit. One main story comes from the 1970s. Instead of throwing out the middle of the donut, a donut store owner named Vern Barber owner took them, fried them, and glazed them.
It’s not that they are a uniquely original idea, as there’s no doubt many people had done this before. Either way, the head of Tim Hortons came across Barber’s creation.
Tim Hortons would introduce Timbits in 1976, and they quickly became one of the most popular items — especially with kids. They’re available in nearly 40 flavors and go hand-in-hand with picking up a coffee.
Bieber was on board with the new promotion as he grew up with the company, and it had been one of his dreams to collaborate with them. The Bieber-based Timbits would be called Tim-Biebs. I know, I rolled my eyes too when I first heard that.
They would create three signature flavors: sour cream chocolate chip, white fudge, and birthday cake waffle.
There would also be a line of Bieber-inspired merch. And everything worked. People loved them.
The Surprising Bounce Back of Tim Hortons
The marketing campaign the company launched created huge exposure for the promotion. Commercials featuring Bieber seemed to run around the clock up here.
There was also massive social engagement and more exposure to younger people. It’s not that kids don’t like Tim Hortons; it was more a place their parents would stop.
Because of the Tim-Biebs campaign, Restaurant Brands International reported that sales rose 10.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021.
This had brought them back from that 11% drop from the same time a year ago. And it was all thanks to Justin Bieber.
On a call discussing the company’s financial results, the CEO of Restaurant Brands International said the Bieber promotion “outperformed our internal expectations.”
For Restaurant Brands International, their fourth-quarter revenue rose to $1.55 billion, which was up from $1.36 billion the year before.
Tim Hortons has always partnered with Canadian NHL players, but this was the next step up. People who may have strayed from the company found out about all the other new food options and changes they have made over the years. And younger people fully embraced it. Again, all thanks to Bieber.
Tim Hortons created a unique product with a celebrity tie-in and the product was still recognizable. They didn’t create a new product for Bieber, but just enhanced an existing one.
They brought in the local boy (who was already noted as loving the company), so the campaign was a natural fit. The promotion was able to keep its Canadian roots even though Bieber is a gigantic star. At his core, he’s still just like the rest of us.
- One smart move is they didn’t create 50 new products with his name on them. This was just three little donuts, and it was enough to give the company a huge bounce back.
- The timing was also perfect. Things were opening back up here, and people just wanted to get back to their regular routines. And that included Tim Hortons.
At the very least, the connection to Justin Bieber — and the consistent marketing — made everyone curious.
Tim Hortons could have had some success just because of the curiosity factor, but they created an excellent product and kept it simple.
They didn’t stray from what made them Tim Hortons, and this kept people coming back. They also finally took advantage of a natural collaboration that was just sitting there waiting for them.
Sometimes a simple idea is the one that’s most effective. Tim Hortons didn’t need to overcomplicate this — and they didn’t.