Brand Stars — Tim Hortons and McDonald’s

When a company is starting out, building a brand that is instantly recognizable is a definite end goal. Franchise Canada looks at two franchise systems that enjoy plenty of brand recognition across Canada and internationally.

Tim Hortons Celebrates 50 Years in Canadian Communities

When the original restaurant opened in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canadians got their first taste of the Tim Hortons brand. Many brand aspects of that first location still resonate throughout the company today, including the red-scripted Tim Hortons name and the core product offering of coffee and doughnuts.

Today, with over 3500 locations from coast to coast to coast, the Tim Hortons brand has come to represent more than a hot drink and sweet treat. It’s become a Canadian icon.

“The Tim Hortons brand is really a reflection of the communities it serves. That’s really the DNA of the brand,” says Glenn Hollis, Vice President, Brand Strategy, Marketing and Guest Experience. “When we talk to guests, they say that the brand reflects the Canadian persona.”

Hollis points out that the brand has a wide appeal, reaching people of all ages, both male and female. “Across the country, we’re well-established in so many communities – urban, suburban, rural – and popular with people of all ethnicities and backgrounds.”

Part of the staying power of the Tim Hortons brand has been its willingness to adapt to the changing tastes of Canadians, adding product offerings over the years to its coffee-and-doughnut foundation. But there’s more to it than simply menu items. As the company celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014, Hollis reflects on what has contributed to Tim Hortons’ brand power.

“For the brand to stay relevant is a testament to the owners and the local marketers, the national advertisers, the appeal of the products and the stories we tell,” he says. “A big part of it is the giving back aspect because the brand has really grown from that seed. Tim Horton himself was a big believer in giving back to the community and supporting kids in the community in particular. After he passed away, the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation was started in his honour.”

Special events and programs are planned leading up to and on the May 17th anniversary as the brand celebrates five decades in Canadian communities.

“For the 50th anniversary, we’ve been working with our branding partner, Pigeon, in designing all new packaging,” Hollis explains. “Our ‘RRoll-Up the Rim to Win’ contest is back with added excitement around it. Even our trucks have a special 50th anniversary look. We have a great digital and social media program and we’ll be connecting with guests to hear more about what they’ve loved about Tim Hortons over the years.”

As more than 95 per cent of Tim Hortons locations are franchised, franchisee owners will also play a large role in the festivities.

“We have a great relationship with our franchise owners and we’ve been working with them to develop our 50th anniversary program. They know what works at a local level best. There will be lots of events planned online and off as owners and their teams welcome guests,” says Hollis, adding that the company will be holding a special edition of its annual franchisee convention in Toronto in July where all Canadian, American and international Tim Hortons owners will get together to celebrate the milestone.

McDonald’s Canada Rebrands and Goes Viral

McDonald’s, founded by Ray Kroc in Illinois in 1955, is now a household name the world over. Canadians were introduced to the brand in 1967, when the first location outside the United States opened in Richmond, British Columbia. A decade later, McDonald’s was a nationwide brand, as it celebrated its 250th restaurant in Canada with the opening of a location in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Over the years, the company has introduced new products, some of which were even invented here in Canada like the McFlurry dessert and the McLobster sandwich, and created a charitable giving program. The centerpiece of the program is McDonald’s Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities which, among other efforts, fund houses near children’s hospitals where families of sick kids can stay while their loved one receives treatment.

With over 1,400 restaurants from coast to coast, McDonald’s is invested in staying attuned to the tastes of Canadian consumers. The franchise system has worked with its franchisees over the past three years to introduce $1 billion in store redesigns to invite guests to linger a bit longer with their coffee or meal.

“This is a pivotal time for McDonald’s and we’re placing unwavering focus on transforming the face of our brand,” McDonald’s President and CEO John Betts said in 2011 as the redesign plans were announced. “McDonald’s is changing as our customers’ needs are changing and we’re committed like never before to staying connected and relevant to them. We believe we’re pulling all the right levers to remain a compelling and favourite dining destination for a growing number of Canadian customers, now and into the future.”

The new store design places an emphasis on McDonald’s McCafe line of hot and cold beverages.

“The McCafe brand is a game changer for our business and the biggest initiative we’ve undertaken since we revolutionized the way people eat breakfast on-the-go with the introduction of the Egg McMuffin over 30 years ago,” Betts notes in a press release. “McCafe is an integral part of how McDonald’s Canada is transforming and elevating its brand and the customer experience.”

The brand also transformed its marketing, allowing for more transparency and two-way communication between McDonald’s and its customers. In May 2012, McDonald’s Canada launched ‘Our Food, Your Questions’ to provide an arena where Canadians could ask questions about the brand and its products and receive answers directly from the company.

“We’ve long been a leader in providing full nutrition information and ingredient listings for everything we serve, but there are still many food myths out there that are completely unfounded and that we aim to set the record straight on,” said Betts during the platform’s debut.

The ‘Our Food, Your Questions’ platform harnessed the power of social media and some of the answers to the 20,000-plus questions posed by users (such as ‘What’s in the famous hamburger patties?’) ended up going viral, with videos, photos and text.