For 36 years, quick service restaurant chain Tim Hortons had Canadian consumers rolling up their coffee cup rims in hopes of winning a range of prizes. But when the pandemic hit, the brand had a matter of days to shift from their traditional campaign to the Tim Hortons app. In 2021, the team made the decision to stick with their digital approach. Matt Moore, VP of Digital and Loyalty at Tim Hortons, shares their story.
The Tim Hortons Roll Up The Rim campaign was an iconic annual tradition for Canadians from 1986 onwards. Every year, Tim Hortons guests could reveal a tab printed under the rim of hot beverage cups that would either announce a prize win — ranging from a free coffee or donut to a free car — or a “please play again” message.
More than 80% of all Canadians have said they played Roll Up over the years.1 Some things changed — prizes were updated and the odds of winning gradually improved — but the core game remained largely the same.
Then 2020 happened.
Like so many businesses and industries, Tim Hortons was pushed into a digital renaissance of sorts. App Annie saw between two and three years of mobile usage habit growth squeezed into less than a year due to the pandemic. Fortunately, Tim Hortons had already been focused on building and developing a strong digital foundation over the last three years, such as the launch of Tims Rewards and Mobile Order + Pay on our app. But in a matter of days, we were forced to take our digital plans to the next level.
We could not appreciate it fully back in early 2020, but the digital reinvention of the Roll Up campaign that March would be an important element of accelerating our digital strategy as Canadians’ adoption to digital experiences went into warp speed. And the results from our fully digital Roll Up To Win campaign in 2021 proved it was the right decision.
We paused the hundreds of millions of cups going to restaurants and replaced them with a digital Roll Up component within five days.
Guests loved the digital game and told us they found it fun and easy to play. It also helped propel our digital sales and digitally engaged guests. Over 30% of all sales in Q1 2021 came through our digital channels including our app, nearly doubling the levels of Q1 2020 and up from 1% of all sales in Q1 2019. During the campaign, engagement in our app hit an all-time high, and the biggest impact came from our redesigned Roll Up To Win contest.2
Here’s how the strategy rolled out.
App strategy engaged new customers and drove sales
Last year marked the 35th anniversary of Roll Up The Rim, and we had designed a hybrid game that planned to feature the traditional paper cup experience along with a new in-app experience that gave guests a way to play digitally. It was scheduled to launch on March 11, 2020.
As the realities of the emerging spread of COVID-19 became clear, we had to quickly shift to a primarily digital game. As we announced at the time, we knew it wouldn’t be right to have team members in our restaurants collecting and handling Roll Up tabs.
We paused the hundreds of millions of cups going to restaurants and replaced them with a digital Roll Up component within five days. Our team worked all weekend and pulled off an unbelievable feat to ensure that we could keep our original launch date.
Our customers not only embraced the app, they loved it. As the year went on, we saw continued growth in positive consumer attitudes toward digital and in the role digital played in our business. The Roll Up To Win game in the app had clearly helped us connect with our customers at a time when we needed digital ways to stay together.
We then recognized that 2021 was the year to officially launch Roll Up as a completely digital game and to retire the tradition of playing the game with paper cups.
Our customers are ready for change and we’re evolving together, meeting each other’s new needs.
Results inspired a permanent shift in a digital direction
To help mark this watershed moment, we gave the 2021 contest a new name — Roll Up To Win. This helped signal our commitment to our shift from paper cups to the digital app, but it also allowed our campaign to not be defined by cups. Consumers embraced this change and continued associating the “Roll Up” term itself with Canadian pride, even using it in memes and videos about rolling up their sleeves to get vaccinated.
We also made it even more exciting and generous than before by making every Roll win — we retired the dreaded “please play again” message and added a list of new prizes that reflected the new digital nature of the game, and expanded eligible products beyond hot drinks. In total, we awarded nearly 60.5 million prizes.
Online search interest in both Roll Up The Rim and Roll Up To Win surged in 2020 and 2021. Working with our Google team, we ran a comprehensive full-funnel strategy informing, educating and driving consumers to partake in the event. Central to our strategy was Google App Campaigns, which allowed us to capture interest with new audiences, and helped connect new and existing customers with the app. With this strategy we saw:
- 2 million downloads of our app in March 2021, twice the downloads that we saw last year during the contest, and significantly higher than a typical month.3
- Over 40% of sales came through our digital channels during the peak of Roll Up — and just over 50% of transactions through our loyalty program Tim Rewards that same week.4
Modernizing the iconic Roll Up The Rim game enticed even more Canadians to go digital with us — both during the new Roll Up To Win promotion and after the game ended. It showed us that our customers are ready for change and that we were evolving together, meeting each other’s new needs.