If the Canadian city of Brantford, Ontario, doesn’t immediately come to mind, you’re probably not a hockey fan. Brantford is the birthplace of Wayne Gretzky, likely the greatest hockey player to lace up skates. He’s a staple of the nation, like the sport he plays and the Tim Hortons coffee people love. But, like most young people growing up playing hockey in Canada, Gretzky had his own heroes to look up to.
When Gretzky was a kid, Tim Horton, the founder of the restaurant chain and a hockey star in his own right in the ’60s, signed a napkin for a young Wayne. The simple signature was kept by Gretzky’s dad, Walter, for over 50 years and now is the star of a feel-good spot for one of the brands most synonymous with Canada.
“[Horton] was an icon—one of the best Canadian hockey players of his generation. I would watch him play on TV, and every night I went to bed thinking about being like him and playing hockey on TV,” Gretzky said. “There have been many moments in my career that I will never forget, but the moment I met Tim in that restaurant, and he signed that napkin for me, it inspired me to believe that I could become a professional hockey player like him.”
“The Autograph,” a true story based on Gretzky’s first meeting with Horton at a newly opened restaurant at the time, was developed by Gut and Canadian directors Jon and Torey. For the spot, they recreated a classic design from an early Tim Hortons restaurant that was precise from the signs to the napkins. An astonishing number of young Canadians—68,000—tried out to play young Wayne Gretzky, which may just be one of Canada’s most sought-after ad roles.
Tim Hortons has been one of Gut’s key clients in its first two years. Founded by Anselmo Ramos and Gastón Bigio, Gut has hit the ground running. Formerly 2/3 of the founding team of David, Ramos and Bigio built that agency into being Adweek’s 2017 Breakthrough Agency of the Year. But in 2018, they both left David to found Gut, taking many of their old co-workers with them.
While Gut (like David) has offices in Miami, Buenos Aires and São Paulo, the agency seems to have no trouble telling the stories of a different climate up north. With the Toronto Raptors playing in the 2019 NBA Finals, Gut worked with Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia to tell his story as Canadians united behind their lone NBA team.
But telling the story of Tim Hortons hasn’t been as natural as it once was. The iconic Canadian brand, affectionately known as Timmies, is under new management after being bought by private equity firm 3G Colossus in 2014. When the company cut benefits to offset an increase in the minimum wage, public opinion began to turn against it. In a 2018 Corporate Reputation study by research firm Leger, Timmies took a nosedive from fourth to 50th.
Now the agency is working to change that reputation by tying the brand back to the iconic sports figures of the country. Only time will tell if Timmies regains its status as Canada’s most beloved brand, but Gretzky is unassailable, so this new, touching spot certainly can’t hurt.
Agency: Gut Miami
Client: Tim Hortons
Founder, CCO: Anselmo Ramos
COO, Partner: Paulo Fogaça
ECD, Partner: Ricardo Casal
ECD, Partner: Juan Javier Peña Plaza
Managing Director: Ricardo Honegger
ACD, Writer: Jeff Hodgson
ACD, Art Director: Eliana Ferrer
Sr. Copywriter: Frank Garcia
Sr. Art Director: Giulia Magaldi
Management Supervisor: Monique Beauchamp Estrella
Senior Producer: Renata Neumann
Producer: Cecilia Salguero / Matt Wiele
Jr. Strategist: Wonsik Cho