Tim Hortons takes marketing stunt to new heights

Quick serve chain partners with well-known illusionist to prank customers for new ad

Tim Hortons has taken its marketing to the next level: levitation.

For its latest ad campaign, launched May 5, the quick-service chain surprised customers at a Tim Hortons in St. Laurent, Quebec with a stunt coordinated by illusionist Darcy Oake. In the spot, by JWT Canada, two actors order the newest addition to the Tim Hortons menu, the Creamy Chocolate Chill. After taking a sip, one of the actors begins to levitate.

Using hidden cameras, the brand captured the reactions of everyone in the restaurant, including its own staff, who were not aware of the stunt or the fact a commercial was being filmed.

The spot is one of several recent Tim Hortons ads that use real consumers filmed in its restaurants. Last summer, the brand painted a restaurant black as part of a stunt promoting its dark roast and led customers through a pitch black experience. It also turned a Calgary home into a Tim Hortons location and “yarn bombed” one of Canada’s coldest towns.

“In the tradition of ads we’ve done over the last year, we wanted to do a real and surprising act in one of our restaurants,” said Peter Nowlan, CMO of Tim Hortons. He explained the ad’s organizing idea was that the Creamy Chocolate Chill provides “a higher level of chocolaty.” From there, JWT pitched the brand on the idea of making one of its customers levitate.

“The creative team came up with the idea of levitating a consumer when they drank Creamy Chocolate Chill without guests or our servers knowing. We loved it as an idea, but we had no idea how we would pull it off when we saw it as a board,” Nowlan said.

Then JWT discovered Oake, a Canadian who’d made the final rounds of Britain’s Got Talent. Oake convinced the team it could pull the idea off as a hidden camera stunt. After shooting more than 100 hours of film in mid-April, the brand cut a two-minute video as well as a behind-the-scenes video.

According to Nowlan, Tim Hortons is launching the video organically before paid media kicks in later this month. To promote the Creamy Chocolate Chill launch, the brand also hosted an event in Toronto May 5 with a performance by Oake as well as DJ Deadmau5, a longtime Tim Hortons collaborator.

chocochill 1The campaign, which also includes television, paid social, OOH, radio spots and regional sampling will run throughout the summer.  Mindshare handled the media buy.

As for the beverage itself, Nowlan said the company sees it as a chance to increase sales during quieter periods, like late afternoon and evening. While its marquee cold beverage has long been the Iced Capp, the quick-service chain has added frozen smoothies and lemonade drinks in recent years in an attempt to diversify and continue to grow in the category.

With the Creamy Chocolate Chill, Nowlan said he believes Tim Hortons can compete with ice cream parlours and frozen yogurt shops. Because its non-caffeinated, the brand is marketing the new drink to families in hopes they’ll come in after dinner as a treat for the kids.

“The gap [for Tim Hortons] is in non-caffeinated afternoon and evening indulgent treats,” he said. “We pioneered and elevated the Canadian cold specialty coffee category with products like Iced Capp we’ve done very well with. This felt like a perfect family member to join us.”

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