by John Winter
A short satirical essay on the Tim Horton's Coffee Cup.
Guerilla Advertising or Benevolent Coffee God Creation?
In Canada, one common thread joins everyone. From the most obnoxious yuppies to the most hickish of hicks, Tim Hortons runs through our blood. And what is more recognizable from this restaurant giant than their very own coffee cup? The average joe won’t take much notice to it – to them it’s nothing more than a vessel which holds the precious life-giving liquid. However, upon careful inspection, it’s an awesome work of art. That is, if your definition of art is “aggressive and subversive guerrilla advertising.” Lets take a look at this little marvel shall we?
The current design has been around for no more than five years or so and it is a clear cut above the previous design (I have a very blurry memory past the early eighties due to me not being born yet and so only have knowledge of one previous design). The previous design was a simple brown cup bearing the Tim Hortons/Always Fresh logo. Now look at what we have! Your sense of sight is overwhelmed with an astonishing amount of coffee-related propaganda. The first thing your eyes will no doubt be led to is the bright red, new and improved, pseudo-handwritten logo that is nothing more than the franchise name “Tim Hortons”. How original. But then again they don’t care about having a logo that has flashing, seizure-inducing lights or a deranged clown-like figure – they just want you in the door with that coffee cup in your hand.
Right above the logo, in a shade of yellow that you could recognize anywhere, are the words “Always Fresh” or “Toujours Frais” for those Francophones out there. Always fresh. Well, that’s pleasing now isn’t it? This little cup is telling me that no matter where or when I walk into a Tim Hortons, my seventy cents in hand, that walnut crunch is going to be fresh. The word “always” seems to constitute some sort of guarantee, but what good is that? Should we really just accept what this cardboard cup is telling us? Personally I would like to see bakers in some sort of zoo-like building toiling over stoves and personally handing me my walnut crunch. Then, and only then, will I know that it’s always fresh. But our average joe, while drinking his joe, probably won’t think about that. He’ll happily purchase that, due to new reforms, “always thawed out from the freezer” chocolate glazed donut.
The real deviousness of the Tim Hortons coffee cup comes from careful study of it. I myself have been an unfortunate victim, for an untold number of years, of this next aspect. Ask a person what is on a Tim Hortons coffee cup. Most won’t know, only those who are observant will have noticed. Go ahead, take a look yourself (and I know, if you’re Canadian, you have one close by). That’s right, the background is a fine example of subliminal advertising. At a quick glance, we are unable to see anything but a brown background with black lines struck across it. However, our brain’s perception has already seen some muffins, donuts, and a cup of coffee, all without us being consciously aware. Psychologically-speaking, this is due to there being just enough figural cues to distinguish the figures from the ground (I knew that first year psychology course would provide something useful). So the next time you’re sipping your java and a craving for a chocolate chip muffin strikes you, know that it came from that cup at your lips.
Two more minor features on the cup show you how truly caring and compassionate Tim Hortons is. Near the top, carefully straddling the border between the English and French sides of the cup, is a picture of a coffee cup. Note this is the second instance of a coffee cup on a coffee cup, how quaint. Written on this cup are the words “HOT!” and “Be Careful”. Tim Hortons is truly worried about your well-being – why else would they include a giant, two centimeter warning on each and every cup? I feel much safer now knowing that some great coffee God is watching over me, warning me of the hotness of the liquid inside. The second compassionate feature are the words at the bottom of each cup: “Please Do Not Litter”. Obviously, the coffee God is worried about the environment just as much as he is worried about you and me. How can you not take the suggestion to throw your cup in the trash after he’s warned you about the coffee being hot and assured you that everything is always fresh? But wait, why is he so worried about the environment? Is it perhaps that without the environment there would be no coffee drinkers and he would have to find a more profitable occupation? In the end, that decision is up to you. I prefer to believe that he is a benevolent and caring coffee God. After all, who else would I pray to as I roll up my rim to win?
Tim Hortons has rolled into the new century with this new cup and business has never been better. Is their boost in business due to their current cup design? Has their subliminal and guerrilla advertising paid off? It certainly has. The coffee God is smiling upon his creation and we’re all smiling from our caffeine-induced happiness. However, we all have to salute the coffee God for his resourcefulness – who among you can say you’ve done so much with a cardboard cup. Despite the underhandedness and deviousness, I hold in my hand a fine cup of Tim Hortons coffee. I’ve recognized the advertising scheme that they have concocted and yet I still partake in their products. Now that’s effective advertising.