A Tim Hortons cup is seen inside a Tim Hortons restaurant in Toronto on March 6, 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic started to hit Canada last month, Tim Hortons eyed its planned upcoming advertising and decided it didn’t quite work anymore amid mass restaurant closures, wide-scale layoffs and physical distancing guidelines all that have upended life as Canadians knew it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

A Tim Hortons cup is seen inside a Tim Hortons restaurant in Toronto on March 6, 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic started to hit Canada last month, Tim Hortons eyed its planned upcoming advertising and decided it didn’t quite work anymore amid mass restaurant closures, wide-scale layoffs and physical distancing guidelines all that have upended life as Canadians knew it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Companies rush to pivot advertising plans during COVID-19 pandemic

Corporate spots acknowledging the pandemic have proliferated on TV breaks in recent weeks

As the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread, Tim Hortons reviewed its advertising plans and decided they no longer made sense as store closures, wide-scale layoffs and physical distancing upended life in Canada.

Instead, the coffee chain went back to the drawing board for two new ads. One informs customers how to buy doughnuts, double doubles and other products without going inside a restaurant, while the other follows Tim Hortons trucks delivering free coffee and doughnuts to essential workers.

“When we looked at what media we had committed to, we said: ‘There’s a better way,’” said Hope Bagozzi, chief marketing officer at Restaurant Brands International, the parent company for Tim Hortons.

Corporate spots acknowledging the pandemic have proliferated on TV breaks in recent weeks as companies grapple with how to fill previously purchased ad slots and what, if anything, they want to to say. How they proceed varies from brand to brand, but no one wants to risk appearing tone deaf during a national crisis.

“A lot of advertising — whether we want to admit it or not — is built on what has worked in the past,” said James Ansley, executive creative director at Grey Canada.

“It feels like right now, the rule book has been completely thrown out and we’re all trying to find our way through this.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Ansley saw companies do things that “felt a little bit … lacking in meaning,” such as spacing out their logos in a nod to physical distancing. McDonald’s Brazil, for example, separated its golden arches mid-March, but later reversed the decision after facing criticism.

Companies are now trying to do something meaningful, said Ansley, by trying to help people feel safe and secure.

Utilitarian ads are one such attempt.

Tim Hortons released one in late March with an employee explaining drive-thrus are open and that app and delivery partners are accepting orders.

That ad was designed as “an accessibility spot” to answer questions the company was receiving from customers, said Bagozzi.

It’s notable that such ads aren’t geared toward selling products.

Ford Canada, for instance, created an ad thanking workers, and closing with information on how customers leasing or financing vehicles through its credit program could receive help.

BMO ran an ad thanking “all the front-liners for keeping our lives moving” without mentioning any banking services. A&W created an ad with a similar message of gratitude to its restaurant staff, essential workers and everyday Canadians “staying home to help stop the spread” that doesn’t show anything more than the fast-food chain’s spokesman, presumably in his own home, with a partial logo visible on the wall behind him.

The company wanted the gratitude to be authentic, genuine and dominant, said CEO Susan Senecal.

“That’s how we felt at that moment in time and we just wanted to express that completely,” she said. “We didn’t think anything more was necessary.”

A&W scrapped its original plans in this “very unusual set of circumstances,” Senecal said, and decided a message of thanks worked better.

The brands Ansley works with have “taken the foot off the pedal as far as pushing product,” which he thinks is the right move as staggering numbers of people apply for emergency government assistance.

More than one million jobs disappeared in March, according to Statistics Canada, and the unemployment rate increased 2.2 percentage points to 7.8 per cent.

“There’s a lot of people that are facing those realities,” Ansley said. ”To go out with messaging that is tone deaf to that, I think, is completely wrong.”

Some brands have paused all their advertising in light of the pandemic, while others are trying to figure out if they have something to say, he said.

“I think really it’s just being true to your brand and your brand’s purpose.”

An example is a Dove Canada ad that presents a series of headshots of health-care workers, many of their faces showing indents from wearing their protective masks. The tagline “courage is beautiful” appears with the company’s logo and a list of donations the company is making to such workers.

The company’s long-runing “real beauty” campaign bills itself as a movement challenging traditional notions of attractiveness.

“That’s what makes it really powerful,” said Ansley. “It’s timely. It is a beautiful message. But most importantly, it just stays true to who they are as a brand.”

Similarly, Tim Hortons showcased its corporate values with the footage of real employees offering coffee and doughnuts to health-care workers, said Bagozzi.

The company didn’t know how it would use the footage when it first gathered it in March, she said, but after seeing the reaction decided to share it broadly.

“There was just such a nice reciprocal generosity and gratefulness that we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so lovely. It’s so Canadian. We definitely want to share this.”

As the pandemic unfolds, it’s unclear what the future holds for advertising.

Tim Hortons ran a new ad recently offering a free pack of Timbits if customers spend at least $10. It’s intended as a nice gesture for families buying a meal, said Bagozzi.

The eatery is also looking at the activities it has planned for the rest of the year, especially the next few months, and asking what is most relevant and appropriate to be doing, she said.

The same can be said for A&W’s future advertising plans.

“As the situation continues to evolve, we’ll continue to think about what’s the most important thing to say next and try and do a good job of that,” said Senecal.

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusTim Hortons

Just Posted

RDEK is calling for nominations for their Volunteer of the Year award in all six electoral districts.
RDEK posts operating surplus as pandemic reduces costs

The RDEK has posted a operational surplus of $8 million as local… Continue reading

North Okanagan business Hytec Kohler set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Spallumcheen plant Friday, May 14. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
More than half of eligible adults in Interior Health vaccinated

Over 365,000 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the Interior Health region

Fernie Ghostriders head coach Jeff Wagner has committed to two more years with the team. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press
Fernie Ghostriders coach departs: Wagner moves to Coquitlam

Jeff Wagner will move to the Lower Mainland as associate coach and director of scouting with the Coquitlam Express

New Border Bruins owner Dr. Mark Szynkaruk reps team colours with his young sons and wife Tracey. Photo courtesy of the Grand Forks Border Bruins
KIJHL’s Border Bruins sold to Grand Forks doctor

The league announced the sale Friday, May 14

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Most Read