Canada's beloved Tim Hortons doughnut shop and coffee emporium has been in the news lately, and not for good reasons. The latest bit of bad press was reported in the Star today, and as of right now, is the most e-mailed and most read item online.
And it’s one of quite a few bit of bad press recently, detailing how Tim Hortons employees have been fired for ridiculous reasons, or, as in the above, employees themselves have demonstrated less than stellar behaviour.
For those of you outside of Canada, it is difficult to describe the bizarre love affair Canadians have with Tim Hortons. People here endure long line ups, all day and every day, for a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee, and indeed, many who drink it believe it has mystical properties and curative powers.
And the advent of Tim Hortons annual Roll up the Rim contest, where patrons, uh, roll up the rim of their coffee cup to see if they've won a prize, verges on a national holiday, and is greeted with more anticipation than children waiting for St. Nick.
I don't get it. I don't get any of it.
I went to Tim Hortons for coffee once. It was after a choir rehearsal. I noticed on the menu that they sold "cappuccinos" and, rube that I was, I thought, hey, a cappuccino, how bad could it be?
What did the geniuses in product development come up with? A machine that says "cappuccino" on it. So to make my "cappuccino", the Tim Horton's employee poured Tim Hortons coffee into a cup, and then sat it under the "cappuccino" machine. Then, with great skill, she pushed a large green button in the centre of the machine, and a beige froth gurgled and spat out onto the coffee she had poured. Once the machine had stopped working its magic, she handed the cup to me.
What can I say? The cappuccino was disgusting. Not because it wasn't really a cappuccino, but because it was just awful.
And this is my point. The coffee isn't very good, the doughnuts are sweet and fatty, but slap enough butter and sugar into anything and people will like it. So why is Tim Horton's a quasi-religious institution here?
The answer, my friends, is marketing. Tim Hortons is the puppet master of perhaps one of the most insidious and successful marketing campaigns in human history, where my nation, desperate for some kind of identity, finds its soul not in our vast expanse of sea and land, our great natural beauty and spirit of cultural accommodation, our prosperity or our valour, but in a dollop of sweetened fried dough and coffee most Europeans would deem as shit.
How? Well, no one has been more successful than Tim Horton's at evoking this kind of small town feel most Canadians believes is at the heart of our strength.
Except it's a delusion. Most Canadians live in cities, and behave accordingly. Somehow, Tim Hortons, a giant corporate entity, has made itself the place where Canadians can feel parochial and "at home", a place where they can be small and think small. They feed and water the lie that is at the heart of perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the Canadian identity – our provincialism.
And now, horror of horrors, the brand is under threat, not from dissidents like myself, but from within. But note the Toronto Star's "analysis" of the problem:
The Lee incident Wednesday and the Timbit controversy two weeks earlier illustrates the challenges companies like Tim Hortons face in protecting their brand images from negative publicity created by the decisions of their franchises.
You see, it's not Tim Hortons fault, it's their unruly franchisees!! Except...the franchisees that make up 95% of all Tim Horton stores.
You don't have to be Theseus' Ship to know that this the Star's anaylsis is just a bit of Tim Hortons spin.
Why is no one thinking the obvious - that the whole franchisee system allows for Tim Horton's to be seen as the benevolent parent, while their unruly children sometimes get in trouble. Why has the Star swallowed this line so completely? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that most Star journalists and editors are Timmy patrons too.
I mean, who do you think is profiting from the franchisees? Is Tim Horton’s a non-profit run by benevolent French-Canadian nuns?
Does anyone think that a franchisee could run a Tim Horton's where they pay their staff really well and offer them benefits? Do you think Timmy's would be OK with that?
No, everyone has sales targets and profit margins, and firing people for giving away a 16 cent Timbit to a child may not be company policy, but you can be sure that if that franchisee doesn't make certain sales targets there will be repercussions, and everyone has to tighten their belts in these kinds of situations, right?
And yet, despite the obviousness of all this, people here continue to eat and drink there in droves. Worse, despite the bad press, they continue to believe in Tim Horton’s, and ignore the mediocrity it embodies, from its marketing and the quality of what it produces to its labour practices.
God knows why, no wait, I do – because Tim Horton’s, God help this land, is us.