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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, most known for its coffee and doughnuts, recently partnered with one of the world’s biggest pop stars. As a marketing strategy to expand its reach throughout the U.S., the coffeehouse giant joined forces with Canadian singer, and apparently life-long customer, Justin Bieber.

“Doing a Tim Hortons collab has always been a dream of mine,” according to Bieber. “I grew up on Tim Hortons and it’s always been something close to my heart.”

The Bieber-Tim Hortons partnership launched three new Timbit flavors. Officially, they’re called Timbiebs. But it’s the unofficial, if slightly scandalous naming of Bieber Balls that stuck and became the go-to order name for millions of coffee-drinking Canadians.

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

This celebrity endorsement highlights a change from the chain’s usual collaborations with NHL hockey players. While some loyal customers may feel sidelined by its sudden and seemingly desperate attempt to attract a new, Gen-Z demographic, the massive demand for Bieber Balls has proved this partnership was the right move.

Here are a few tips brands can take away from the Tim Hortons x Justin Bieber union.

Stick with 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 certified international popstar who’s gained more than 200 million followers online, a collab with Bieber is guaranteed to attract an army of young, dedicated fans. The popularity of the Timbiebs (and the limited-edition merch) prove the point. The decision by Tim Hortons to partner with Bieber is a great lesson in building brand awareness.

In recent years, Tim Hortons has struggled to draw in a new crowd. In 2019, its attempt to attract younger, more health-conscious customers with a plant-based burger was unsuccessful, ultimately leading to the discontinuation of the item after only two months. The problem is that customers don’t go to Tim Hortons for healthy options. Coffee and doughnuts are its bread and butter, and venturing out too far can leave the impression that Tim Hortons is “selling out.”

Although Tim Hortons may have missed the mark with vegan menu items, its Bieber collaboration was exactly what it needed. Instead of adding a “trendy” new item, Tim Hortons stuck to its tried-and-true doughnuts, and simply added new flavors. In addition, while Bieber’s fame attracts U.S. customers, his Canadian roots allow Tim Hortons to remain the symbol of Canadian national identity.

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

In addition to rolling out new doughnut flavors, Tim Hortons released limited-edition merchandise, including hats, tote bags, and fanny packs with the Timbiebs logo on it. The demand for this merch quickly exploded, resulting in the items’ being resold online for an alarmingly high markup. In addition to the merchandise itself being resold, one bidding war for an empty Timbiebs box ended with a winning bid of more than $10,000. For reference, a box containing 10 Timbiebs costs $2.74.

Although the fan reaction to this merchandise may seem absurd, it’s not surprising. Marketing a product as “limited edition” is a sure-fire way to tap into the consumers’ need for uniqueness, positively influencing their perception of the product. Owning something that very few people have can instantly leave customers feeling special, especially if it leaves their peers feeling envious.

While the popularity of this limited-edition merch has worked well for Tim Hortons, it’s important to note that things can quickly go south when the demand is too high. When this happens, customers are left feeling frustrated at the brand for advertising something that’s so largely inaccessible. Tim Hortons clearly understands the position it’s in, announcing that it is restocking all things Bieber-related asap.

Choose the timing of your campaign carefully

The timing of the rollout also played a significant role in its success. As mentioned above, Tim Hortons has struggled to attract a younger crowd in the past. This is likely in part because of the influence that social media has had on body image.

It’s no secret that Instagram has considerably affected how young people view their bodies, putting users at an increased risk for eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder. If your brand revolves around selling baked goods, consumers’ becoming overly concerned about their appearance can be a substantial barrier.

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

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

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