Hiding Behind Technology

Posted on July 29, 2015

Shauna MacDonald, Principal & Founder


As our ever-increasing social and media-buzz world continues to get smaller and smaller, the tendency to blame technology is really getting old. Does, “sorry, it must have been in my junk-folder”, or “strange, I never got that text…” ring a bell?

Case in point – Tim Horton’s is now considering removing their Tims TV in-store digital screens. Really? Was it really the screens fault for last month’s clash between environmentalists and energy industry supporters?

For years, brands have been accused rightly or wrongly of not being transparent when controversy comes knocking. The Tim Horton’s debacle was not a technology issue or a political issue. It simply was a marketing strategy gone wrong.

Tim Horton’s put itself in the hot-seat for selling ad space to pipeline mammoth Enbridge on its in-store digital screens. The commercials angered environmentalists who launched an online petition to get the ads pulled from stores, but when Tim Horton’s decided to remove the Enbridge ads, energy industry supporters called it an insult to one of Canada’s most powerful industries and launched their own boycott. Did I forget to mention this all played out on National Donut Day?

The controversy highlighted the potential pitfalls of a brand like Tim Horton’s selling ad space to companies that could anger some of its customers. But again, it was not the in-store screens’ fault. This is not a scenario where “blame the messenger” actually might work. Ultimately, Tim Horton’s marketing due diligence did not consider potential adverse reactions to the ads. Had Tim’s done its research and realized these ads could cause certain audience groups to be upset, the donut giant would have had two options; 1) own its decision and maintain its position for choosing Enbridge as an advertiser or 2) realize the potential reputational risk would far outweigh the monetary gain and not sign with Enbridge.

Either way, the outcome would have been far better than what played out in social, media and public circles and technology would not have been blamed…again.

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-Shauna MacDonald is Principal and Founder of Brookline PR and enjoys debating the pros and cons of current events, marketing and political moves and financial plays, especially with her two young sons.