Free is the new black: Harvey’s and Timmies get into the giveaway game

Free is the new black: Harvey’s and Timmies get into the giveaway game

Come and get it: Tim Hortons hands out free iced coffee (Photo by Kanko) 

As if Tim Hortons—arguably one of the most beloved commercial symbols of Canadiana—needs more press, the coffee giant is handing out free iced coffees today until 5 p.m., less than a month after McDonald’s two-week java giveaway and a month after Starbucks’ Earth Day caffeine free-for-all. The idea of promotional freebies isn’t new, but the combination of dwindling advertising budgets and consumers cutting back on eating out seems to be responsible for its sudden surge.

Harvey’s is also getting into the game by declaring this Sunday National Hamburger Day, offering free burgers from 10:30 a.m. (breakfast) to 3 p.m. (high tea). In the past two years, the fast-food chain has given out a total of 500,000 complimentary burgers in Ontario and Quebec for their provincial giveaway days. “We invite all Canadians to come out for some economic relief…with a burger topped just the way they like, on us,” says company president Frank Hennessey in a press release.

The recession giveaway game, however, doesn’t work for everyone. Chef Chris Brown of the fine-dining restaurant Perigee tried to scrounge up customers in February by serving 500 canapés at Union Station. Two months later, the posh eatery closed for good. Earlier this month, Advertising Age pronounced the Kentucky Fried Crisis that left six million Americans fuming (and hungry) one of the worst promotional kerfuffles in advertising history. (Incidentally, KFC’s parent company’s stock price dropped $2 a week after the incident.)

Advertising Age interviewed a marketing guru for the Denny’s restaurant chain—which gave away two million Grand Slam breakfasts in February without embarrassing Oprah or themselves, that in order to pull off a giveaway—who said that companies have to set a strict time frame for the promotion and hold town hall–style meetings with franchise owners and staff.

Harvey’s and Tim Hortons seem to be on the right track, with firm giveaway periods and one-per-customer limits, and with Tim Hortons’ stock prices on the decline over the past year, perhaps this will be the much-needed stimulus for the doughnut dealer. Plus, the last thing we need is the sight of uncaffeinated hooligans rioting over a $3 burger.