The recent media frenzy generated by Tim Hortons’ decision to pull the Enbridge ads off their in-store Tims TV monitors almost drove Ms Soapbox to drink (G&Ts not Tims double double).
Then she paused. The #BoycottTims brouhaha created a learning opportunity—for businessmen and conservative politicians alike.
The business lesson
Here are the steps that resulted in the Tim Hortons/Enbridge ad campaign going horribly wrong.
- Sell Tim Hortons, a Canadian icon, to 3G Capital, a multi-billion dollar Brazilian investment company and merge it with Burger King, an American fast food giant. Then make the merged chain a subsidiary of a new company, Restaurant Brands International Inc. This will ensure that the New York suits who call the shots will have little more than a rudimentary understanding of local issues.
- Lay off hundreds of Timmys’ staff at head office and the regional offices. Ensure that Timmys’ sustainability/corporate responsibility staff are among those given their walking papers.
- Develop a new revenue generating model (Tims TV) which is essentially an in-store billboard that promotes items of community interest and ads for Timmys and other complementary brands to a captive audience. Forget the “community” purpose of Tims TV and accept a lucrative ad campaign from Enbridge, the pipeline company sponsoring the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline.
- Run three weeks of “Life Takes Energy” ads featuring small children and owls and get blindsided by an online petition sponsored by SumOfUs, an internet activist/corporate watchdog demanding that the “Life Takes Energy” ads be pulled because Enbridge is using a trusted brand to promote its pipeline to the public.
- Wait two days to assess the negative feedback and pull the ad from the in-store TV programming.
- Watch helplessly as wild-eyed politicians attack the decision to pull the ad and demand that Canadians boycott Timmys unless it apologizes and reinstates the ad (even if Enbridge doesn’t want to?)
- Wish you’d never heard of “Life Takes Energy” because “Life Takes Stamina” to survive between a rock and a hard place.
Business decision go wrong
The Tim Hortons/Enbridge ad controversy is similar to the Taco Bell Veggies ad campaign which blew up when the Centre for Science in Public Interest complained that the ad implied Super Bowl party-goers were wimps if they brought veggie trays to a playoff game party. CSPI launched a Twitter campaign and Taco Bell pulled the ad. That sparked a backlash from other consumers (presumably junk food aficionados) who berated the company for caving to the “food police”.
All of which illustrates the golden rule of advertising: don’t offend the very people you want to convince to buy your product.
In this case, Tim Hortons and Enbridge did the smart thing. Timmys assessed the negative feedback and pulled the ad. Enbridge said it respected Timmys’ decision.
And that would have been the end of it but for a bunch of hysterical politicians who blew the whole thing out of proportion.
Wildrose MLA, Brian Jean, characterized Timmys’ decision to pull the ad as “a political shot” at energy job creators. Mr Jean alleged that the online petition is part of a larger conspiracy mounted by Americans who want to destroy the oil industry and turn Canada into “a huge national park”.*
Mr Jean refuses to set foot in Tim Hortons until it issues an apology to God knows who.
Federal Conservative politicians Jason Kenny, Michelle Rempel and Joan Crockatt piled onto the boycott bandwagon urging Canadians to give up their beloved double doubles as a sign of support for the oil industry.
Has everyone lost their minds?
It is utterly undemocratic and an abuse of political power for a gang of politicians to override the commercial decisions of two private businesses and urge citizens to boycott one business if it refuses to fall into line with their warped thinking.
A reality check
OPEC met this week and decided to maintain its current high level of production. Consequently oil prices will remain low and Alberta’s economy will continue to suffer.
Among those who will suffer are the hundreds of Tim Hortons franchise owners in Alberta. These businessmen and women invested between $480,000 to $510,000 to set up shop; they’ll fork out an addition 30% of gross monthly revenues to Timmys just to keep the doors open. Then they’ll pay wages and taxes and then, if they’re lucky, they’ll make a profit.
The conservatives’ call for a boycott will accomplish nothing…other than harming these small business owners, their employees and the local economy.
Surely it’s time for politicians to realize that they’re not the energy industry’s white knights. The CEOs of Enbridge and Restaurant Brands (who together earned $12.5 million last year) can take care of themselves very well thank you, without the misguided “assistance” of politicians trying to make a name for themselves.