The best current marketing successes in Canada are Tim Horton’s and the H1N1 virus.
Both have caused big line-ups and one has caused widespread panic. It isn’t the doughnuts.
I know as much about H1N1 as I do about double-doubles, but I do know the value of publicity as both Tim and the microbe have enjoyed plenty of life in the spotlight.
The difference is that Tim Horton’s pays some very big bucks for some very bad commercials that have somehow emotionally linked Canadians with caffeine and deep-fried dough.
I would hazard a guess that many Tim Horton customers have little or no idea about the guy behind the doughnuts and coffee.
Tim Horton was a talented hockey player from an era when many hockey players had off-season jobs or businesses to supplement their modest hockey salaries.
Tim Horton started his doughnut and coffee business while he was a Toronto Maple Leaf in the mid-60s but his sudden death in a high-speed 1974 car crash held him back from the ultimate rewards of a hugely popular multi-million dollar franchise business. So now he is the doughnut guy to most people.
The H1NI virus has garnered headlines because it is a real health threat that has stepped beyond the speculative boundaries of the bird flu epidemic scare from a few years ago.
The leap from sick chickens to people has yet to materialize, but the media spent several months scaring the hell out of people during the frenzy of speculation and subsequent epidemic of fear.
The first H1N1 victims in Alberta were pork producers as the swine flu moniker made people think in less than warm and fuzzy terms about the concept of pork on their fork.
I would hazard a guess that hysteria steered the “headlines only” readers clear of the meat section in supermarkets to avoid unwanted contact with pork chops during the initial tidal wave of unwarranted fear about porcine products.
Meanwhile already hard-hit pork producers got broker a lot sooner.
Now we understand that H1NI is a contagious disease that will infect most people in a fairly tolerable form, but it has the potential to become deadly for a segment of the population, generally believed to be about one per cent under present conditions. Graphic media accounts of H1N1 deaths have definitely heightened the problem.
However, the biggest problem is that a vaccine for every Albertan is a lengthy process complicated by over-the-top media coverage of the pandemic.
Health officials orchestrated a strong message that everybody should get an H1N1 vaccination, but they did not have a great game plan for its implementation.
Emotion is a great motivator in any advertising campaign so fear of death helped motivate people to get a flu shot.
In fact, it motivated people to line up for longer hours than any video game release because video game deaths are less fatal to non-cartoon people.
So the H1N1 people ended up with a very frightened and large customer base and not enough actual product after a very successful ad campaign.
Now they need to take a page out of Tim Horton’s and get customers through the windows faster.
Jim Sutherland may be reached at mystarcollectorcar.com.