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    Posted by Admin

    Friday, April 15, 2005

    Tim Hortons and Canadian Cultural Identity
    by Expat

    There is an interesting discussion going on here.

    Bethanie has posed the question why is "so much of modern Canadian cultural identity is based on a coffee shop"? It is definitely a topic that deserves some exploration!

    The man for the job to answer that question would be Steve Penfold. Penfold wrote his masters thesis on the sociological aspects of Canadian doughnut shops, including Tim Hortons. For his research, he won the 1999 Ig Nobel Prize. Sadly, we at Canadian Expatriates, do not have the number to Steve's red phone so you are stuck with my inane ramblings on the subject.

    There is no denying that Tim Hortons is one of the most successful companies that has ever come out of Canada. With franchises springing up every couple of blocks, it is hard not to notice its presence. Those franchises, though, are not just mom and pop operations. Certainly they do take on the flavour of the area in which they are established, but through the power of branding, you can always rely on the service and the product being consistent. According to Tim Hortons' executive vice president of marketing, "People do not experience our brand through radio and TV spots. They experience it over the counter every time they order a coffee, knowing that they are going to get it fast, fresh, and at a good price." To ensure this, employees at every new franchise must undergo seven weeks of training.

    Although the ad executive tries to play down the commercials, there is something to be said for Tim Hortons marketing. The company's commercials are certainly memorable and they do play on a sense of Canadian national pride and identity. In all honesty, Canadians have had a difficult time defining themselves. As a nation, we try so hard to distance ourselves from our powerful neighbours to the south that we end up defining ourselves more as "not American" than as Canadian. That is what made Molson Canadian's "I am Joe and I am Canadian" ad campaign so successful. It provided Canadians with a tangible sense of national identity, even if it really was just highlighting the differences between the two nations.

    Tim Horton's ad campaign, on the other hand, actually did supply Canadians with that missing sense of identity. To promote the 1999 "Roll Up the Rim" contest, a television spot began airing which featured a Canadian proving his citizenship to a border guard by declaring "Rrrrrroll up the rrrrrim!". Not long after that, border guards reported an insurgence of Canadians using the shtick to enter the country. Another successful commercial for Tim Hortons was one that featured a Canadian student studying abroad in Scotland. Homesick, the student wrote a letter to Tim Hortons and received a care package in the mail. In the package was a Hortons' coffee maker, coffee, and paper cups. It was a taste of home and a taste of Canadian pop culture.

    At the same time as the clever marketing campaigns, This Hour has 22 Minutes and The Royal Canadian Air Farce were featuring skits set in coffee shops. Even the movie Wayne's World spoofed Tim Horton's when the characters went to the fictional coffee shop "Stan Mikita's", the name of another former NHLer. As Canadians saw themselves reflected in these shows, it became clear that these shops were not just a place to pick up coffee and a doughnut. They were more than that. In fact, they were a community where people could sit leisurely and visit. Tim Horton's had come to represent that sense of community, and that sense of being Canadian. Isn't it ironic then, that this icon of Canadiana is actually owned by Americans?

    Expat Talkback:
    What does Tim Hortons represent to you?
    What is it that you miss most about being away from Canada?

    Posted by Expat at 10:55 AM

    Thanks for the post. You hit the nail on the head about Canadians having a hard time with our cultural identity. I think, once I get a chance, I would like to do a piece about how our presence is felt from a low income tourist stand point here in Thailand. I have tried a few times but it is hard not to generalize. I will do some brain storming over the next few days. Thanks again for being open to my question.

    oh and to answer your questions. Tim Hortons represents the local police force around my folks house who come by with coffee for my parents on cold days (sob sob) and it represents my brothers hockey games.

    what I miss the most? blending into a crowd. what I will miss the most when I move back in a few days? not blending into a crowd.


    That would be such an interesting topic for a post! It is something that I have never experienced before and I certainly would love to see your take on things based on your own experiences!

    It was such an interesting question that you raised, that I just had to write something about it. When you stop and consider the fact that Canadians identify themselves through a coffee and doughnut shop, it really does strike you as being somewhat odd!

    To answer my own questions:

    Tim Horton's represents a lot of good memories: having coffee there with friends and family, drinking coffee while studying at 3 am, grabbing a box of Timbits for a road trip through the Rockies, or picking up bagels and coffee as I left my hometown for the last time. I am actually surprised to see just how prominent a role Tim Hortons has played in my life.

    As for what I miss most about Canada, there really is so much. The biggest thing that I miss is hanging out with my grandparents. That is something that I will forever cherish.

    Well, sad as I am to admit it, that ad about the Canadian student in Scotland was a load of crap. I wrote to Tim's on behalf of a friend of mine, who is working in Ethiopia on behalf of the UNHCR -- doing great "Canadian" type work. I got a letter back saying that they didn't ship coffee anywhere, so sorry. I had to ship it myself...after extracting a promise that she wouldn't let the yanks steal any.

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