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Branding a nation

Tim Hortons, the ubiquitous purveyor of the oh-so-Canadian coffee and doughnut combo, is on a mission to win the west,…

By Amy Hadley , in Blogs Consumerland , on January 25, 2008

Tim Hortons, the ubiquitous purveyor of the oh-so-Canadian coffee and doughnut combo, is on a mission to win the west, and it seems to be doing well. Proof that one of the few things that Canadians can embrace, as a nation, is a company. Not even a Canadian one anymore.

Tim Hortons will be “focusing expansion efforts” in Western Canada as well as Quebec in 2008.

They put down roots in Ontario ages ago. In my hometown of Thunder Bay, a new Timmy Ho’s seems to spring up every few months. Kitty-corner Tim’s are as common as kitty-corner Starbucks here.

Five years ago, Vancouver was indeed uncontested Starbucks territory. To me, the lack of Tim Horton’s was eerie, unnatural. But a Tim’s location is no longer an oddity in Vancouver.

The newest Vancouver location on West Broadway opened just this winter. A friendly lady at the regional Tim Horton’s office tells me about plans to build new locations here “in the near future.” She can’t tell me where or when – that’s top secret – but they’re coming.

Oh, they’re coming.

Tim Hortons and Canadian national identity are often discussed. The book Timbit Nation, (I’m not a big fan of the book, but it’s favourably reviewed on this site for hitchhiking enthusiasts) celebrates the restaurant as a Canadian symbol.

The chain was brought to Kandahar, to keep Canadian troops happy.

According to their website, Tim Hortons is the focus of a lot of school projects. I’m guessing they don’t mean in the U.S.

Peirre Berton said that a Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe.

That saying may be a bit outdated. A modern Canadian might be someone who can make love while rolling up the rim of a double-double and chowing down on a maple-dip doughnut. Okay, maybe if you can do all of that, while in a canoe, then you are master of a true Canadian skill set.

A sexy, sexy skill set.

I’m a bit concerned about it though. Not just because of the dual drowning/choking hazard.

I’m torn between relief that our sense of nationalism seems so harmless (compared with the jingoism of some other nations) and disappointment that we as a nation have become so attached to a company peddling mediocre coffee and artery clogging sweets. All of that offered up in a the ambiance of a brown plastic box that makes you feel like you’re dining in a giant Fisher Price toy.

I worry about our susceptibility to a giant marketing machine that so successfully targets our soft spot, our weak national identity.

And I’m very worried that they can command headlines with plans for a new sandwich in the lead. New sandwich? Stop the presses!

But the impossibly long line up at the UBC Tim’s sure does make me feel at home.