A Shocking Canadian Collab Between Justin Bieber and Tim Hortons Is a Teaching Moment for Brands Needing a Makeover

Tim Hortons, Canada’s largest restaurant chain, famous for its coffee and cake, recently partnered with one of the world’s biggest pop stars. As a marketing strategy to expand their reach across the United States, the café giant has joined forces with Canadian singer, and seemingly lifelong client, Justin Bieber.

According to Bieber, “Collaborating with Tim Hortons has always been my dream.” “I grew up on Tim Hortons and it has always been something close to my heart.”

The Bieber-Tim Hortons partnership has launched three new flavors of Timbit. Officially, they are called Timbiebs. But it was the unofficial, albeit a bit scandalous, naming Bieber Balls that caught on and became the go-to name for millions of Canadian coffee drinkers.

(And by the way, for my American readers, Timbit is the Canadian version of the donut hole.)

This celebrity endorsement highlights a change from the series’ usual collaboration with NHL hockey players. While some loyal customers may feel sidelined by her sudden and seemingly desperate attempt to attract a new Generation Z demographic, the huge demand for Bieber Balls proved that this partnership was the right move.

Here are some tips that brands can take advantage of from the Tim Hortons x Justin Bieber union.

Stick to what you know, but do it in a new way

Fan or not, we’ve all heard of the name Justin Bieber before. As a global pop star who has over 200 million followers online, collaborating with Bieber is guaranteed to attract an army of young, dedicated fans. Timbiebs’ popularity (and limited edition merchandise) proves the point. Tim Hortons’ decision to partner with Bieber is a great lesson in building brand awareness.

In recent years, Tim Hortons has struggled to attract a new audience. In 2019, its attempt to attract younger, more health-conscious customers with a vegan burger was unsuccessful, eventually leading to discontinuation of the item after just two months. The problem is that customers don’t go to Tim Hortons for healthier options. Coffee and cake are bread and butter, and venturing too far can leave the impression that Tim Hortons is “selling out.”

Although Tim Hortons may have missed the mark with vegan menu items, the Bieber collaboration was exactly what he needed. Instead of adding a new “trendy” ingredient, Tim Hortons stuck to tried-and-true donuts, simply adding new flavors. Additionally, while Bieber’s fame attracts American clients, his Canadian roots allow Tim Hortons to remain an icon of Canadian national identity.

Create a (artificial) request, but don’t let it get away from you

In addition to introducing new donut flavors, Tim Hortons has released limited edition merchandise, including hats, handbags, and fanny packs with the Timbiebs logo on them. Demand for these goods spread rapidly, resulting in items being resold online for alarmingly high markup. In addition to reselling the same merchandise, one bidding war on an empty Timbiebs chest ended with a bid of over $10,000. For reference, a box of 10 Timbiebs costs $2.74.

Although the reaction of fans to these merchandise may seem ridiculous, it is not surprising. Marketing a product as a “limited edition” is a surefire way to capitalize on consumers’ need for excellence, and positively influence their perception of the product. Having something that very few people own can instantly make customers feel special, especially if it leaves their peers feeling envious.

While the popularity of this limited-edition merchandise has worked out well for Tim Hortons, it’s important to note that things can quickly head south when demand is very high. When this happens, customers are left feeling frustrated with the brand for advertising something largely unreachable. Tim Hortons clearly understands the situation he’s in, and declares that he’s restocking all things Bieber-related ASAP.

Choose your campaign timing carefully

The timing of the rollout also played an important role in its success. As mentioned earlier, Tim Hortons has struggled to attract a younger audience in the past. This is likely in part due to the effect of social media on body image.

It’s no secret that Instagram has dramatically affected how young people view their bodies, putting users at increased risk of eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder. If your brand is all about selling baked goods, consumers’ excessive concern about their appearance can be a major hindrance.

Despite this finding, people are not equally preoccupied with their body image all year long. Research shows that body dissatisfaction tends to be highest in summer and lowest in winter. In other words, if you want customers to make room in their diet for delicious donuts, then winter is the time to strike. The decision to roll out the new Timbits around the holiday was a smart strategy by Tim Hortons that certainly helped their partnership with Bieber succeed.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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