The coffee and doughnut chain says it’s trying to keep up with the times by modernizing the program with a new focus on being environmentally friendly while appealing to younger consumers.
But people were left scratching their heads after the plans went public Wednesday, accusing the company of being out of touch with Canadians.
“Stupid change to the contest,” HuffPost Canada reader Scott McGaghey wrote on Facebook.
“Thank you Tim Hortons for saving me money,” Alexandria Brown chimed in. “I used to be a sucker for Roll Up The Rim season.”
“Why do they keep changing things?” Carlye Logue asked. “They were so much better when I was a kid.”
Back then, the contest was simple: Buy a beverage and roll up the rim. Win or lose, it was a fun way to reward loyal users in the middle of winter.
“You know you win right away, and that was the beauty of the program,” Susan Weaver, managing director at Pearl Strategy and Innovation Design, told HuffPost.
But now, drastic changes have gutted much of what Canadians loved about it. Tim Hortons says it is rewarding digital and sustainable ways to play by pushing customers online, but marketing experts say the program is way too confusing, especially since it changes half way through the contest.
“It’s super complicated. There’s so many layers to it,” Weaver said. “Simplicity is always a core principle when it comes to promotions.”
Ryerson University marketing Prof. Joanne McNeish agrees, saying the company has so much more work to do.
“I shook my head,” McNeish told HuffPost. “Once again, it’s like, who is running their marketing department? This is insanity.”
When the contest begins on March 11, it will come in two phases. Customers who buy hot beverages will get to roll up their rims for the first two weeks, and those with a Tims Rewards will get an extra roll online. For the final two weeks, the only opportunity to win will be online through digital play.
“We listened to the feedback from our guests, who wanted us to modernize the program,” Hope Bagozzi, Tim Hortons’ chief marketing officer, said in a news release. “The contest will allow for a combination of paper, digital and sustainable play.”
Plenty of confusion predicted
Customers who buy hot beverages with a reusable cup will also receive three bonus digital plays, which can be redeemed online or through the Tim Hortons app. To encourage this, they’re handing out 1.8 million free cups on March 10. They’re also getting rid of “Please Play Again” by giving every cup a chance to win $100,000, but only if you have the Tims app.
“We intentionally designed the contest this year to reward behaviours that are digital and sustainable – something guests told us was a priority and Greenpeace has applauded us for,” a Tim Hortons spokesperson told HuffPost via email. “To ensure all Tim Hortons guests could participate in the contest, we have approximately 2 weeks of paper Roll Up The Rim cups as well.”
But because there are so many facets to the contest now, McNeish predicts there will be plenty of confusion in stores when it rolls out.
“It’s a contest that’s going to build a lot of backlash and resistance rather than being the fun, joyous campaign that it always was,” she said. “They’ve got all sorts of places where they’re going to disappoint people.”
The changes are meant to appeal to a younger demographic, but for those less tech-savvy, it’s going to be a lot harder for them, says Weaver.
“It’ll piss the older people off, especially in the last two weeks,” she said. “If it is really difficult for people to understand, then they’re going to have to do some work.”
One of the biggest changes to the contest is the reduction in the number of weeks, down from 10 to four, which could give the perception of fewer opportunities to win.
However, Tim Hortons says it is offering $30 million in prizes during this year’s Roll Up the Rim contest, and rewarding registered Tims Rewards members all year long.
The sustainability play through reusable cups could attract Gen-Z and millennial consumers who are environmentally conscious, but McNeish feels it would’ve been better to avoid this angle entirely.
“You can’t attract people by saying you’re sustainable. You have to be sustainable,” the marketing professor said. “It’s another misstep.”
“They need to stay true to their roots. They’re not fast food.”
Marketing experts agree it makes sense for Tims to push customers toward their app. It’s something competitors like Starbucks and McDonald’s have been doing for years now. But after a series of blunders, including a highly publicized battle over the minimum wage in Ontario, this move could be more salt on the wound for the iconic brand.
McNeish says Tims “destroyed” their image over the years with too many products and not enough quality, and now they’re in recovery mode.
“It’s too bad people can’t get together and buy it back because it’s really a shame,” she added.
Kenneth Wong, a marketing professor at Queen’s University, said there’s more to this than Roll Up the Rim.
“It is wrong to suppose that this contest is the root of Tim Hortons’ problems,” he told HuffPost via email. “Unspectacular products, weak service infrastructure, inconsistent menus across outlets, franchisee disruptions and employee frustrations are the problem.”
Down but not out
In 2014, Tim Hortons was purchased by Burger King for US$11.4 billion, becoming Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which now also owns Popeyes. Many changes have followed since then, but experts say the company still has a robust presence in Canada that dates back to 1964.
Earlier this month, RBI reported a 4.6-per-cent drop in Canadian sales at Tim Hortons locations in the last quarter of 2019, nearly double what analysts had predicted. RBI said the numbers didn’t reflect the brand and it would work towards returning to its “founding values.”
Experts say that’s exactly what Tim Hortons should be doing.
“If there was real intent to bring it back, it’s absolutely possible to recover,” McNeish said.
“They need to stay true to their roots. They’re not fast food,” Weaver said. “They need to know who they are.”
That starts with a renewed focus on what made them famous: coffee, doughnuts and baked goods.
“I think they’re still a fantastic brand,” Weaver added. “I don’t think that people will stop going to Tim Hortons.”
This story has been updated with additional comments from Tim Hortons.