A Young Wayne Gretzky Gets Tim Horton's Autograph in New Ad Based on a True Story

GUT re-enacts a scene from 1968

This ad's a tearjerker. But don't reach for the Kleenex. Grab some napkins instead. 

In September, Tim Hortons chief marketer Paloma Azulay found herself chatting over coffee with hockey icon Wayne Gretzky. "I asked him a question I've been asking everyone I meet with: Do you have a true story you want to share about Tim's?" she recalls. 

Wayne spun a tale that Azulay found "almost too good to be true," she says. "I knew this was a diamond in the rough that we needed to share."

The narrative springs to life in an affecting 90-second film from agency GUT and OPC directing duo Jon + Torey. The year is 1968, and Gretzky, age 7, meets the real Tim Horton, an NHL legend and one of his heroes, at a restaurant opening in Wayne's hometown of Brantford, Ontario. Horton provides an autograph, scribbled on a napkin. But the story does't end there.

Tim Hortons | The Autograph

"When I was a young boy, I looked up to Tim Horton," Gretzky says in a statement. "I would watch him play on TV, and every night I went to bed thinking about being like him and playing hockey. 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." 

A few months before Gretzky's meeting with Azulay, Wayne's dad Walter Gretzky discovered the napkin in his basement and presented it to his son, who hadn't seen the autograph in decades. Wayne and Walter replay that scene near the end of the commercial, and the intense emotion on The Great One's face around the 1:20 mark is powerful enough to melt the ice at any rink in town. 

"This film really showcases two things: first, the inspirational power that a single moment can have—changing the course of your life, and history, forever," Azulay says. "The second is cherishing tradition. Walter knew how important this moment was to Wayne, so he kept the autograph all these years, and now he gets to relive this moment with his son." 

The spot's almost as sweet as Tim Hortons' 9x9 Wayne Gretzky java with nine sugars and nine creams, because Greatness wore No. 99. (Shhh, it's on the secret menu.) 

Ricardo Casal and Juan Peña, partners and executive creative directors at GUT, say they received thousands of applications for the part of lil' Wayne Gretzky. "It's probably one of the most applied-to roles in the history of Canadian advertising—a true milestone!" they say.

Ultimately, the team chose Gordie Gilders, whose look and mannerisms closely match those of the youthful Gretzky. (Plus, the kid's name screams hockey, and how!) 

Gilders has already become "a local hero" in his school for playing the role, we're told. After the spot drops online today, and later this month during TV coverage of the Ice Hockey World Junior Championships, he'll probably wind up signing plenty of autographs for fans. 

As for that treasured Tim Horton signature, "we didn't want to accidentally damage such an important piece of Wayne's history," Azulay says—so the team used a stunt napkin for filming.

"The one you see in the spot is an exact replica of the actual autographed napkin," she says. "The original continues to be safely stored in Walter's personal collection."

CREDITS

Agency: GUT Miami
Spot: Autograph
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

CLIENT: Tim Hortons
Axel Schwan: Regional President 
Paloma Azulay: Chief Marketing Officer
Jana Goodbaum: Head of Integrated Marketing Communications
Markus Sturm: Head of Marketing, Tim Hortons Canada
Jenni McIsaac: Lead, Media and Calendar
Dibba Iran-Parasti: Manager, Integrated Marketing Communications

PRODUCTION
Production Company: OPC
Directors: Jon + Torey 
Executive Producers: Harland Weiss, Donovan Boden, Isil Gilderdale
Producer: John Scarth
Director of Photography: Kiel Milligan
Production Designer: Alex Saiapov
Wardrobe Stylist: Angela Koszuta
Hair / Make-up: Cathyann Cuthbert

The Autograph :90

Editorial: Cosmo Street Editorial
Editor: Lorenzo Bombicci
Managing Director/Executive Producer: Yvette Corraburias
Producer: Idalia Deshon
Assistant Editor: Philip Gomez

Online: Cosmo in-house
VFX Artist: Nico Cragnolino

Color: Apache Digital 
Colorist: Steve Rodriguez
Producer: Stefanie Schaldenbrand

Music By: Human
Composed by Jonathan Russell
Creative Lead Andy Bloch
Sr. Producer Craig Caniglia

Sound Design and Mix by Berkeley Inc.
Creative Director: Jared Kuemper
Executive Producer: Tyna Maerzke

The Autograph :30 & :60:

Editorial: Cosmo Street Editorial
Editor: Philip Gomez
Managing Director/Executive Producer: Yvette Corraburias
Producer: Idalia Deshon
Assistant Editor: Philip Gomez

Online: Cosmo in-house
VFX Artist: Nico Cragnolino

Color: Apache Digital 
Colorist: Steve Rodriguez
Producer: Stefanie Schaldenbrand

Music By: Human
Composed by Jonathan Russell
Creative Lead Andy Bloch
Sr. Producer Craig Caniglia

Sound Design and Mix by Berkeley Inc.
Creative Director: Jared Kuemper
Executive Producer: Tyna Maerzke

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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