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How to Adapt an Ad Campaign to a New Market: Tim Horton’s 50th Anniversary vs. #TimsDark Experiment

The best way to successfully adapt an ad campaign to a new market is to use a cross-cultural communications approach. This involves thoroughly evaluating the impact of specific regional, cultural and linguistic factors on consumer preferences, then creating or adapting content according to those considerations.

But what happens if you don’t take this approach?

In this post, we look at the popularity of the English and French versions of Tim Horton’s 50th Anniversary ad versus its #TimsDark Experiment ad to find out.

Tim Horton’s 50th Anniversary Ad

To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014, beloved Canadian coffee shop Tim Horton’s recreated its first store and placed it at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto, Canada. Shot at this location, the Tim Horton's 50th Anniversary ad featured customers recalling their cherished Tim's memories. Click on the links below to view the ads:

The French version of the ad is simply the English ad with French captions as well as French subtitles over the English dialogue.

How did the two versions do?

The English and French versions of Tim Horton’s 50th Anniversary ad were both released in late May 2014. By the end of August, the English ad had nearly 1.3 million hits and over 300 comments on YouTube. The French ad? Just under 3,500 hits and no comments. Yikes!

#TimsDark Experiment Ad

To promote its new dark roast coffee, Tim Horton’s recently released its viral #TimsDark Experiment ad featuring a blacked out Tim Horton’s restaurant in Île-Perrot, Quebec. Click on the links below to view the ads:

While the concept and location for both the English and French versions of the ad remained the same, this time the ad was thoroughly adapted for the francophone market. In addition to French captions, most of the ad was reshot with French-speaking customers, employees and hosts, instead of just using French subtitles over the English version of the ad.

And the result?

In its first 10 days, the English #TimsDark Experiment ad got 1.9 millions hits and over 200 comments on YouTube; the French ad got nearly 208,000 hits and 15 comments.

Understanding and Respecting Culturo-Linguistic Sensitivities

From this case study, we can see that adapting an ad campaign for the francophone/Quebec market by providing a token translation through subtitles is not sufficient. The #TimsDark Experiment ad featuring French-speakers clearly resonated more strongly with the francophone community.

Canada has a large francophone population of over 9.5 million French speakers, 6.1 million of whom are in Quebec. If you don’t adequately localize your content using a cross-cultural communications approach, you risk alienating a significant market segment and missing out on potential customers.

Can you really afford not to adapt your content?

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