Turning Free Coffee Into New Customers

If you know any Canadians, you know our obsession with Tim Horton’s coffee. Some people argue the coffee isn’t actually any good, but we drink it incessantly anyway. Ex-pats living abroad will have friends bring them cans of coffee when they visit, and we even set up Tim Horton’s restaurants at our army base in Afghanistan so our troops can have a little bit of home. Timmy’s coffee is as much a part of our national persona as hockey, poutine and beer.

Every spring for the last 25 years, Tim Horton’s has held its Roll Up the Rim to Win contest, where customers can win everything from free coffee and donuts to entertainment systems and cars. Roll Up the Rim is taken very seriously around here. This is the time of year where we forget our budget-saving measures of bringing coffee from home, we stop being environmentally-friendly and leave the reusable mugs behind, and ignore our diets. People count their wins-to-losses, tweet when they win, and even use iPhone apps and websites to keep track. People will go as far as digging their cups out of the trash if they’ve forgotten to roll up their rim, and disputes over prize ownership have made national headlines.

Over the years, there have been competitors who’ve tried to copy the contest’s format, but never with a great deal of success.

However, a few years ago a competitor decided to take things up a notch. McDonald’s Canada was introducing a new coffee blend and decided to piggy-back on Roll Up the Rim. The new McDonald’s coffee was launched the same week RUTR started, and they were offering free small coffees for a week. They preceded the launch with a barrage of commercials on TV and radio, and it worked. People started trying the new coffee. And every year since, McDonald’s has run the same promotion; they offer free small coffees for the first week of Roll up the Rim.

Most people I know have tried it at least once. Many have permanently made the switch from Timmy’s to McDonald’s for their morning caffeine. Some days I’ll grab a coffee at the deserted McDonald’s drive-thru just to avoid the crowds and long lines at Timmy’s. It’s a good cup of coffee, the cups are bigger, and most of the time the experience is better, too.

If you’re in an industry where one competitor dominates, can you find a way to piggyback on some of their promotions? Something as minor as free coffee could turn a competitor’s customer into your newest brand evangelist.

Photo: zmtomako/Flickr

About Dawn Smith

Dawn Wentzell is currently working in custom mobile app development as Project Manager, Mobile Technology at SpeakFeel Corporation. She has experience with SEO for both local businesses and national markets, loves to do site audits and hates IIS hosting. You can find her at dawnwentzell.com or on twitter at @saffyre9.

Filed under: Featured, Insights


Jason Hanley

Great insight! Now I have to figure out a way to do something similar with PMRobot. I wonder what type of promotions BaseCamp runs… 🙂


Count me as a McDs convert. McDs futzed with their coffee recipe until they found a winner. Now they have superior coffee and are just generally superior at getting people in and out quickly when compared to Tim’s. When I think Tim’s I think waiting in line, not so much at McDs.

Dawn Wentzell

They’re definitely pro’s at getting people in and out as quickly as possible. And the one time my cup dripped, their customer service people were on it immediately. The difference between how the two companies handle things is like night and day.


I work for tim hortons now and i think that the big difference between the 2 one is that at tim , we made your lunch when you ordered it and not 2 hours before, and the long time that you waist in drive-thru depends on where did you go.to my tim, every customer quit the line of drive thru each 25 sec or less, try to keep your canadian’s mind

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