Friday, January 27, 2012

Tim's re-names its coffee cup sizes: PR or not PR?

I love Tim Hortons coffee, and since there's a Tim's here at The Roblin Centre, I buy at least 5 cups a week.

Until last week, the cups I bought were usually "large;" now, the very same cup is "medium." To make room for a new 24 oz size (bigger than what was formerly called "extra large"), the company has re-named all its existing coffee cup sizes and added a new "extra small."


A news release on the Tim Hortons website says the company tested the names of its new cup sizes, "and the response has been overwhelmingly positive." It added that "[b]y shifting the sizes, we're able to provide coffee lovers with a full range of five size options: from extra small, all the way up to the new extra large."

Testing, testing

In Creative Communications first-year PR, we look at how organizations use research to help them make business decisions -- and we examine how carefully questions need to be worded to yield an accurate view of public opinion. 

We also look at examples of the different ways one set of research results can be interpreted, depending on how questions are worded.

In this case, I'd love to know whether the "overwhelmingly positive" response in the research was to the idea of actually re-naming all the familiar cup sizes with the names of other equally familiar cup sizes (except one)... or whether it was to the names themselves. 

I would expect overwhelming support for names like extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large from customers who were already used to ordering small, medium, large and extra large. I might expect the response to be a bit less enthusiastic if the question was about using all those same names to denote new sizes... but I could be wrong. That's why we do research!

Is this a PR issue?

No, it isn't -- it's a marketing issue.

But it could become a PR issue if it caused a customer backlash (of which I haven't seen any evidence, in this case). If you don't think a change in marketing can cause customer backlash, though, go back and check out what happened when The Gap tried to update its logo in 2010. 

Could this be a publicity stunt?

A friend of mine suggested it might be, in the interests of getting everyone blogging and tweeting about the new sizes. (If that's the case, you're welcome, Tim's!)

I'd question whether Tim Hortons would take that risk unnecessarily, since there was the possibility customers would find the whole thing confusing and annoying until they got the hang of it. 

I'm not going to say it's impossible, but I wouldn't have recommended potentially confusing and annoying customers intentionally, in the hopes that their reactions would generate "buzz." That might generate publicity, but I don't think it would help the company's PR. 

The bottom line

Even if people find the re-naming annoying, I can't see it being a reason for anyone to stop buying coffee at Tim Hortons if that's the coffee they like. The company has a great reputation and brand -- this is at most a blip.

And even if Tim's has turned my old large into a medium, it still beats calling it a "venti."


  1. Well, their small cups were, to be fair, absurdly small compared to anything else in the mainstream coffee industry. What's more annoying is that even though they are pushing their new lattes on us, they are still not actually available at the campus Tim's.

  2. Amanda's absolutely right. In fact, McDonald's small coffee is nearly the size of the old "Large" Tim's cup. They are a major competitor to Tim Hortons, so it makes sense they bumped up the sizes.

    I worked at Tim Hortons when I was in high school and certain customers always complained about the XL not being big enough. A larger size was over due, but they probably wanted to avoid adopting a new name for it. In fact, I think the reason they re-named the sizes is because calling the new size "jumbo" or "XXL" sounds much more down-scale from the Tim Hortons brand. Thus, they re-named to maintain their image and brand value.

  3. Amanda: I have to admit, it now feels very dainty to order an "extra small."

    Chaley: How about "bladder-buster?" Nah, that's likely off-brand, too. :)

    Thanks for commenting!