Roll Up the Rim to Win imperfectly successful

In its 31st year, Tim Hortons’ RRRoll Up the Rim to Win still attracts more business and more attention than any other campaign in the Canadian food industry.

It’s one of the few campaigns that transcends generations. And people have even attempted to steal boxes of Tim Hortons cups just to get their hands on a prize.

The campaign is a stroke of brilliance.

And after a few years of ownership, American giant 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway clearly thinks RRRoll Up is worth keeping.

But why does the promotion work?

The odds are against it: Non-paying customers stay longer in the restaurants while paying ones desperately try to find a spot to drink and eat. Some don’t even bother rolling up their rim to see if they’ve won, so the sustainable value is questionable. Paper cup haters have expressed concerns about how environmentally-unfriendly the campaign is. And anyone showing up at the restaurant with a reusable travel cup is automatically excluded.

None of this seems to matter.

The campaign lengthens lines and the restaurants are full of patrons in the middle of winter. Research suggests Canadians are attracted to lineups and busy restaurants. That’s just the way we are. Car lineups at the drive-throughs speak for themselves.

Since the 2014 takeover of Tim Hortons by 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway, people have wondered if the campaign would survive. But this is Tim’s third campaign since the acquisition. The new owners remain committed to the highly profitable mid-winter classic campaign. Many things have changed at Tim Hortons since the acquisition, but not RRRoll Up. That speaks volumes about the success of the campaign.

RRRoll Up works for a few reasons.

Timing is everything. While most competitors run promotions during the holiday season, Tim Hortons holds its promotion after. In 1986, when the first campaign began, it filled a wintery void of nothingness. RRRoll UP now owns the February-March space and no competitor has capitalized on the winter months in the same way. In 2011, McDonald’s Restaurants tried to increase morning traffic by giving away coffee during RRRoll Up. The promotion affected Tim’s success, but only for the one year.

The campaign name is self-descriptive and easy to remember. While the French version of the slogan is less obvious, it nevertheless has positioned itself favourably in Quebec over the years.

The use of social media has also helped reach several markets.

But most importantly, simplicity is the key. With RRRoll Up, you know if you’ve won without looking at papers or online for winning numbers. Other than winning instantly while buying something you would normally buy, nothing else is required. The intrigue while you finish your drink makes the campaign tick.

The campaign is as simple for customers to understand as it is for Tim Hortons to run. Other than a few tweaks at the store level, the campaign is a straight-forward management challenge.

In its first year, the campaign’s biggest prize was Timbits. Since then, vacations and cars have been added to the list of prizes. Non-coffee and donut prizes include 2017 Honda Civic Coupe EX-T, 55-inch LG 4K UHD TVs and $5,000 CIBC prepaid card prizes. These companies see value in collaborating with Tim Hortons to increase their own brand equity.

Over the years, RRRoll Up has had several winners, but the biggest is undoubtedly Tim’s. It promotes Tim’s products to hook new coffee customers once the campaign is over. And it builds customer loyalty.

It’s surprising that other Canadian brands have never been able to match the effectiveness of RRRoll Up.

And it’s difficult to see this campaign ending anytime soon.

But coffee wars are heating up in Canada. Chains such as Starbucks, McDonald’s and others are vying for more coffee business and Tim Hortons will need all the help it can get from RRRoll Up to keep its customers and gain new ones.

— Sylvain Charlebois is dean of the Faculty of Management and a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University. 


© 2017 Distributed by Troy Media