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'Molding' the Narrative: An Interesting PR Day For Restaurant Brands International

Restaurant Brands International, the U.S. parent company of Canadian staple Tim Hortons and fast-food giant Burger King, seemingly never averse to making very public waves, jumped into the deep end this week with the launch of two high-profile campaigns on the same day.

Opting for a shock-and-awe tactic to launch their latest product, Burger King announced a new, preservative-free Whopper with an intentionally revolting video of one of their new burgers rotting. Literally.

The ad, quite simply, makes the case that the fact that their new burger is even capable of going bad is proof that it’s good. Or at least better than the competition.

It was an interesting way to draw attention to the chain’s efforts to introduce healthier options, appealing to the more discerning millennial customer.

“The beauty of no artificial preservatives,” reads the tagline.

In a move that drew an equal amount of disgust from RBI customers, on the same day of the moldy burger reveal, fellow RBI franchise Tim Hortons broke the ‘mold’ on their exceedingly popular “Roll Up The Rim To Win” contest – an annual contest revered by Canadians from coast to coast in which the rim of its paper coffee cups can be rolled up to reveal a prize – by offering worse odds, fewer prizes, and a shorter duration for the contest.

The contest, which previously ran for up to 10 weeks, will now only run for four – two of those weeks customers will be able to physically roll up the rim of their coffee cup to see if they won a prize. The first twist to this year’s version of the contest is, for the following two weeks, customers will only be able to roll up their rims virtually, through the coffee chain’s app.

It’s a move intended, as the company says, to urge customers to take more advantage of the brand’s new loyalty program, which they feel offers enough free stuff to justify also cutting the available prizes, as well as encourage customers to use fewer disposable cups (but they will still have to purchase a coffee using the app to take advantage of the digital rim-rolling, so it’s not immediately apparent how this will reduce paper-cup usage).

Further, the total estimated value of the prizes this year, which range from free coffees, donuts and cookies to a new car, is $29.9 million. In last year’s version of the contest, the prizes totaled $71.3 million.

As if that didn’t make fans of the popular promotion angry enough, fewer prizes also means the odds of actually winning dropped, to one in nine, compared to one in six in previous years.

RBI, specifically Tim Hortons, has found positive press hard to come by in recent years. From public battles with their franchisees to leaky lids, there has been a string of difficult headlines that no amount of Timbits Cereal, or moldy burgers for that matter, can fix.

For many, there is no such thing as bad publicity. In this case, launching a major ad campaign and massive cuts to a fan-favorite promotion on the same day… well, that could have been easily avoided – especially when the ad campaign takes an incredibly unconventional, and mostly revolting, path.

It’s unclear if this is the result of the left and right hands not communicating within RBI, or perhaps the hope that fuzzy hamburger buns would distract from cuts to the ‘Roll Up The Rim to Win’ contest, or something else entirely.

One thing is for certain: People are certainly talking about Restaurant Brands.

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