On the Frontlines of the Hashtag Wars: Enbridge, Tim Hortons and #BoycottTims

Tim Hortons Coffee Cup

On the same day that Bill C51 was set for a final vote in the Senate, the Canadian internet erupted into a storm of angry tweets. The message was clear: you can take our freedom, but you can never tell our Timmies not to run ads for Enbridge.

Timmies is, of course, Tim Hortons coffee, the venerable Canadian institution whose coffee and donuts have become so inseparable from the Canadian identity that Prime Minister Stephen Harper once famously blew off going to the UN for a coffee at Timmies instead. Tim Hortons has exactly the kind of patriotic sheen to it that CAPP is hoping will rub off on its ‘Raise Your Hand’ campaign.

Last week, Enbridge pipelines announced on its blog that it would be showing its latest ads on Tim’s TV (the flatscreen televisions behind the service counter). Almost immediately, online activists seized on the opportunity.

SumOfUs, an organization that rallies public pressure to encourage companies to adopt sustainable business practices, encouraged Tim Hortons to cancel an advertising buy from Enbridge, the company trying to build public support for the Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline from Alberta to the B.C. coast. 

Within a day, more than 28,000 people had signed the SumOfUs petition encouraging Tim Hortons to dump Enbridge. Hours later, Tim Hortons did just that. And a few hours after that, this happened:

Twitter trending topics

Familiar Faces urge Canadians to #BoycottTims

The most powerful voices in this call for a boycott are unsurprisingly familiar. Stephen Taylor, formerly of the National Citizen Coalition, has tweeted (not counting replies and retweets) more than 30 times today about #boycotttims. He is the de facto leader of the movement, and his message is clear:

Ezra Levant, creator of Ethical Oil, has a rich history of turning the principled stances of companies into moments for consumer uproar. In 2011, he jumped on a decision by Chiquita brands to avoid the use of ‘fuels from tar sands refineries’ after public pressure from a Forest Ethics campaign. Levant responded with a call for a consumer boycott of Chiquita bananas using the hashtag #bloodbananas and citing the company’s human rights record. He uses similar logic against Tim Hortons here:

Cody Battershill and his not-for-profit Canada Action also chimed in. Battershill, a Calgary realtor, says he got his start in pro-oil sands activism in 2010 when LUSH, a U.S.-owned company, set up displays in all of its Canadian stores showing the environmental impacts of oilsands extraction.

Thanks to their efforts, #boycotttims has been trending in Canada all afternoon. Even Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel, Jason Kenney and Pierre Poilievre have chimed in with their support. Levant has launched a petition and is crowdfunding radio ads.

Sound and Fury, Signifying … ?

#BoycottTims is not a singular online moment. Twitter is a popular place to launch or promote consumer-driven campaigns. So while all of this was happening on Canadian Twitter, other boycotts elsewhere raged on as well. These were the three most popular today:

  • #boycottespn (a deplorable campaign to punish the network for awarding Caitlyn Jenner the courage award at its annual ESPY ceremony)
  • #boycottorange (a consumer response to a French telecom giant threatening to cut ties with Israel over their illegal occupation of Palestinian territory)
  • #boycottbrew (encouraging UK cafe-goers to avoid a chain owned by a guy who attacked a cyclist)

So, let’s recap. Elsewhere in the world, people are using Twitter to fight for (or against) transgender rights, ending illegal occupations in Palestine and for basic human decency.

And in Canada, we’re filling up timelines because one company changed its mind about running ads for another company inside its establishments.

If you find that hard to swallow, you’re not the only one.

When we roll back the rim on this moment in time, there’s isn’t likely to be a prize for anyone (well, except maybe for SumOfUs).

Tim Hortons isn’t legally required to run anyone’s ads on their closed circuit networks. Enbridge will find other places to spend its advertising budget. And there are dozens of coffee shops, gas stations and cafes eager to take the money of the 100,000 oil sands workers who reportedly consume Tim Hortons brew every day.

It’ll be at least a month or more until Tim Hortons — sorry, Restaurant Brands International — releases its Q2 financials and we find out if today’s hashtag wars made any difference to the bottom line.

In the meantime, it’s #hugyourcatday.