Roll Up the Rim to Win needs an environmental reboot

Environmental Mess
Roll Up the Rim to Win needs an environmental reboot

Tim Hortons’ iconic campaign has been around for 33 years, an incredible run, but the circular economy has overtaken it

By Sylvain Charlebois
Senior Fellow
Atlantic Institute for Market Studies

The entire Roll Up the Rim to Win campaign rests on the physicality of the cup. Almost 300 million cups are produced for the Tim Hortons campaign, which kicked off on Feb. 6 and ends in mid-April. But packaging is on everyone’s mind these days.

Some winners have been required to send in the entire cup to claim their prize, instead of just ripping off the tab. But to have a chance at any prize, a cup is required.

Hardly a day goes by without a story on plastics, garbage or other unsustainable practices in food retailing.

In 1986, when Tim Hortons started the Roll Up the Rim campaign, cities were still a few years away from launching recycling programs. Today, food retailers and restaurant outlets are under watch. And Tim Hortons has been targeted as one the largest generators of garbage that ends up on Canadian seashores, along with McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Nestle.

What’s different now is how society values the concept of the circular economy. Companies remain responsible for the products they sell, from the initial transaction between the consumer and retailer to when all materials have eventually been repurposed in one way or another.

The goal is no waste, no pollution – only positive and desirable results, from a sustainable perspective. Even the slightest disregard for the environment will break the cycle of sustainability.

Everyone cares about the environment, it seems, until life gets in the way. Time constraints, carelessness, laziness – many things can prevent proper disposal of products once they get into consumers’ hands.

Tim HortonsGradually, however, companies are being held at least partially responsible for the garbage left in parking lots, stadiums, beaches and school yards. Times are changing.

But the Roll Up the Rim to Win campaign is not changing.

A group of Calgary students, Mya Chau, Eve Helman and Ben Duthie, have amassed more than 100,000 signatures to encourage Tim Hortons to bring the entire campaign online. Another Albertan tried the same thing in 2016.

Digitizing the promotion is being proposed so customers can bring their reusable cups to Tim’s in order to reduce waste. It’s a noble objective.

For Tim Hortons though, such a shift would fundamentally change the campaign. There would no longer be conversations among friends or co-workers, with their cups of Tim’s coffee, waiting to see if anyone has won a car, cash or simply another coffee.

The campaign strategy has worked and got many Canadians hooked. And sales at Tim Hortons during the mid-winter months magically soared over the years and customers kept coming back.

But it’s 2019 and the argument that increased profit justifies the means carries less weight than it did in 1986. It’s not just about increasing sales or getting customers on board. A promotional campaign is now, more than ever, about making people feel better.

Buying countless paper cups with plastic lids isn’t acceptable anymore, especially for younger customers. The group under the age of 39 accounts for more than 40 percent of the population. And demographic pressures are real. Not only does this group value the environment, their economic clout is increasing.

What’s more, this group mostly sees the Internet, or apps, as viable, easy alternatives to any physical aspects of a marketing campaign. They believe that if the technology exists, why not use it?

Some less tech-savvy customers may feel disenfranchised by a shift to an online campaign, but Tim Hortons could risk losing more customers by sticking to past practices. Starbucks and other chains are making changes, so expectations are shifting rapidly.

Canada’s love affair with Roll Up the Rim to Win needs be modernized. It was nice while it lasted but Canadians expect restaurant chains to embrace the circular economy. That includes Tim Hortons.

Sylvain Charlebois is scientific director of the Canadian Agrifood Foresight Institute, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, and a senior fellow with the AtlanticInstituteforMarketStudies.

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