Senior Director, Marketing, Toronto Raptors & TFC: David Freeman
VP, Marketing & Communications: Shannon Hosford
Senior Director, Communications: David Haggith
Media Assets Planner: Robert Middleton
Media Agency: Maxus Canada
Manager, Buying/Planning: Steve White / Maxus Canada
PR Agency: Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment
Executive Creative Director: Dave Roberts
Creative Director: Jeffrey Da Silva
Creative DIrector: Tom Koukodimos
Art Director: Andrew MacPhee, Jeffrey Da Silva
Copywriter: Jeremiah McNama, Austen Morrow
Group Account Director: Jared Stein
VP, Strategy: Dustin Rideout
Account Manager: Jacob Barnes, Nicki Franek
Senior Strategist: Shai Idelson
Head of Production: Jeanic Larocque
Producer: Jac Benoit
Director: Stuart McIntyre / Steam Films Toronto
Director of Photography: Kris Belchevski
Offline Editor: Graham Chisholm / Married to Giants
Editor: Marka Rankovic
Colour, FX/Online: Alter Ego & The Vanity
Music: Apollo Studios
|Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):||1 April 2014 – 31 March 2015|
|Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: ||April 15, 2014 – May 4 2014|
|Base Period as a Benchmark: ||1 April 2013 – 31 March 2014|
A sports team connected to a city in name alone
The Toronto Raptors is Canada’s only team in the NBA, but after nineteen years of play the team hadn’t become a fixture in national culture like our hockey teams. We were never a highlight in Canadian sports news – our stories were given dry and technical headlines – and we were always relegated by hardcore NBA fans to the fringe of the league. Americans showed no reverence either; it wasn’t uncommon to hear pundits and critics disparaging the team during the few instances Raptors games were aired in the U.S.
The Raptors brand didn’t inspire Canadians’ hearts or minds in a meaningful way. It lacked the storied history that many other Canadian teams were able to draw upon. And although most fans were fond of the dinosaur, it really had no connection to the nation’s culture or past. In short, the brand’s identity – its story, values, and personality – was unclear.
Our brand health scores verified people’s indifference to the team. Connection stood at 48.3 points – well below the Leafs – and nearly a third of people couldn’t find the words to describe the team’s identity [Footnote 1]. When asked about rebranding the team, fan opinion was split in regards to the impact it’d make. [Footnote 2] (See Confidential Information)
We required more than just a mascot to represent the Raptors, we needed a defined and inspirational personality that would draw people in, and spark membership in our brand.
But how would we inspire Canadians to unite around the Raptors when Canadians didn’t connect with what the team stood for?
Rewriting headlines around the Raptors in Canada
The Raptors brand needed to be centred on an evocative story, one rooted in a palpable cultural tension that every Canadian could identify with, to recruit and mobilize new legions of fans.
Success in this case would ultimately be gauged by the splash it made in popular culture: fan sentiment and support, and pickup by the media. Thus, the measurable objectives for the rebrand became to:
- Reinvigorate brand love: increase brand connection 10 points;
- Enter everyday conversation in Canada: increase social mentions 200%;
- Attract new fans to the stands: increase the proportion of new purchaser sales from 6.6% to 50%;
- Maintain the team’s upward trajectory: maintain the franchise’s valuation growth rate of 28% [Footnote 3].
$1 - $2 million
Recruiting Millennial partners in ball
Before we got to work mining for insights around the Raptors, we defined the group of people we needed to understand and re-establish a relationship with. They are those young people who live, work, and play in Toronto’s urban core. Savvy and well connected, this culturally diverse group is proud to be from Toronto, and proud of their strong influence over how the city’s future is shaped. As vocal on social media as they are in person, they would play a pivotal role in spreading the message across the country.
So to evoke their profound allegiance to the Raptors meant that the team’s new identity had to be rooted in a shared belief that would unify people from coast-to-coast.
Outsiders of a sport invented by a Canadian
Pouring over almost two decades of stories about the Raptors uncovered years of constant discrimination. We’ve been harped on because we’re from the Great White North, which is funny considering the sport was actually invented by Canadian teacher and coach James Naismith. [Footnote 4]
We’ve been told that we play a different game by pundits, told we’re no good and not a part of the culture by diehard NBA fans, and slammed in the press by players who say being here wasn’t the same as in the U.S. because the “air smelled different.” [Footnote 5]
These truths gave us the fodder and creative license to have the Raptors claim a unique position in Canadian culture: the outsider. We had to stop trying to fit in, and instead embrace this role forced upon us – a positioning no other Canadian sports franchise (or brand for that matter) had ever taken.
Tapping into a swelling pride of place
It was clear to us that there was a latent pride of place held by urban Millennials and we knew this approach would resonate with them: we saw them cling to cultural icons, like Drake, who unabashedly championed Toronto and Canada on the global stage.
Being different because you’re Canadian was becoming an increasingly bigger source of pride, and this phenomenon hadn’t yet been reflected by any of the city’s other sports teams. The belief of “Toronto and Canada as outsiders” was a particularly relevant one in culture, and a potentially powerful unifier if communicated effectively.
To strike a deep chord with people meant us ditching the Canadian “nice guy” stereotype and truly acting like a brand with a chip on its shoulder. We redefined the outsider persona to flip its negative connotation into a positive one. The Raptors would possess a strong personality with a fiercely proud demeanour but uniting spirit. This galvanizing identity would begin to move us from a brand people were indifferent to, to a brand people were ardently passionate about.
For every Canadian to be aware of and embrace this new brand belief, we needed to create content that would inspire fans and non-fans, but would also be easy for journalists and media personalities to work into their stories. Video content was undoubtedly the most appropriate medium to illustrate the outsider-tinged tone the team would adopt.
Phase 1: Tease – April 15
- Toronto Raptors YouTube account – hosted the teasers
- 0:10s Teaser #1: #WeTheNorth – Storm
- 0:10s Teaser #2: #WeTheNorth – Huddle
- 0:10s Teaser #3: #WeTheNorth – Flame
- Toronto Raptors Facebook account – posts with teasers
- Toronto Raptors Twitter account – tweets with teasers
- Toronto Raptors Instagram account – hosted teasers
Phase 2: Reveal – April 16 to May 4
- Toronto Raptors YouTube account
- 0:60 second TV spot: #WeTheNorth
- TV broadcast: TSN (Bell Media) and Rogers Sportsnet (Rogers)
- Toronto Raptors Facebook account – posts with 0:60s film
- Toronto Raptors Twitter account – tweets with 0:60s film
- We The North merchandise – distributed in-game and for sale in sports retailers
We The North: A rallying cry for the nation
We The North was the Raptors’ call-to-arms. Short and sweet, it attracted Canadians to stand alongside us and confer Canada as the dominion of the outsider. Purposefully inclusive in tone, it was crafted to spark a sense of patriotism with second- and third-generation Canadians and appeal to the similar outsider sentiment that could be felt by new Canadians.
Shot in a dark and gritty style, the films dispelled the misconception that Toronto’s just a hockey town. By referencing the team’s geographic remoteness in the NBA and hinting at the harsh conditions that stereotypically define Canada, this declaration let the Raptors own this pride of place. And by showcasing the city’s vibrant basketball areas, we showed that the sport is a bigger part of culture than previously thought.
The clamour for We The North merchandise affirmed the cultural capital the team possessed. A simple but evocative line of apparel and accessories was released so that fans could proudly brandish their membership in the team and proclaim their outsider status. From flags to hats and shirts, it began as limited-run items given to fans at the venue and quickly became permanent offering at retailers nationally.
0:10-second teaser videos
Phase 1: Tease – April 15
Four days before their first game, three 0:10-second teasers that riled up fans, and set up the 0:60 film was uploaded to YouTube and promoted through the Raptors’ social media pages.
Phase 2: Reveal & Campaign – April 16 to May 4
On April 16, the 0:60 film was dropped on its social platforms, and began receiving airtime on broadcast TV. Aired exclusively on sports channels TSN and Sportsnet throughout the Raptors run in the playoffs, the spot was played on virtually every commercial break during the two-week period. Upon their Game 7 loss on May 4, the buy ended, and no other We The North creative was in market.
Merchandise was made available for the first game on April 19, and the line continues to be sold in stores at the time of writing.
Ignited a brand resurgence that spawned a $400 million growth spurt
We The North spawned the beginning of a growth platform that impacted every revenue stream, helping us:
- Recruit thousands of new, paying fans: the proportion of new purchaser sales topped our objective of reaching 50%, as it jumped from 6.6% to 68.1%. While a portion of this increase can attributed to the on-court performance of the team, the fact that the split between previous and new ticket holders changed so drastically is a testament to the campaign’s ability to recruit individuals into the team
- Breakthrough fashion circles: in one year, We The North licensed merchandise has come to represent 37% of the Raptors’ total merchandise sales (excluding the sales of jerseys)
- Become must-watch TV: viewership increased 25% over figures at 2013-2014 season start
- Position ourselves as a sexy brand partner: sponsorship revenues increased +17% over figures at 2013-2014 season start, moving us from 11th to 7th best in the league
- Become one of the fastest-growing NBA brands: the Raptors franchise valuation increased 77% in year, from $520 million at the start of the 2013/2014 season to $920 million at the start of the 2014/2015 season [Footnote 6]
A belief that captured the collective consciousness of a nation
We The North was picked up by fans in Toronto, and was broadcast across the country. It’s clear that the message was positively received by and resonated with Canadians as there were 425 national and 93 international articles written about it by campaign end, that generated 350 million unique circulations. Publications that covered the rebrand included USA Today, Bloomberg, ESPN, Bleacher Report, Rap-up, Vice, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail, and The Toronto Star.
The rallying cry lit up social media and we became water cooler conversation by giving fans a label and badge to identify themselves with online. Our social channels exhibited record growth. Activity spiked +300% versus the regular season and we received 157 million impressions through our Facebook and Twitter platforms by campaign end:
- Record number of new Facebook likes +170% increase versus the 2013-2014 regular season
- Record number of new Twitter followers +130% increase versus the 2013-2014 regular season
- Record number of YouTube views in a month +350% increase versus the 2013-2014 regular season
- #WeTheNorth became the most viewed video ever on our YouTube account: +865,000 views
- #WeTheNorth appeared in 60% of all social Raptors-related content for the playoff season, totaling over 436,000 mentions [Footnote 7]
One year later, we’ve been able to measure a shift in our fan base: from a social following that was heavily Ontario-centric to one that’s 60% comprised of non-Ontario followers. [Footnote 8]
The latest brand health scores show that brand connection exceeded our objective by growing 14.7 points to 63.0 points. This makes the Raptors the highest-scoring MLSE brand for brand connection, when only a year ago it was #3 of 4 franchises. [Footnote 9]
We spent a modest $230,000 in paid media for the We The North campaign, which was spread over two weeks. Through strategic media partnerships and ingenuity, at the end of the campaign we received $1.1 million in earned media and an ROI of 378%.
A swagger embraced by all Canadians
What this abundance of positive business results points to is the degree to which the unifying belief and outsider mindset bled into popular Canadian culture. It gave the next generation permission to be bolder and more declarative in thought and action and transformed not only the way our players approach the game, but how they view the team.
High-profile Canadians used the #WeTheNorth hashtag and dedicated tweets to the team, and effusively shared their love for Canada (Rob Ford, Olivia Chow, Stephen Harper, The Biebs).
We The North became the muse & chorus for tracks dropped by Toronto artists (Benji, SynSational, Humble The Poet), and has been parodied. [Footnote 10]
Montreal Canadiens fans appropriated the message when their team was in the playoffs (“Oui The North”).
#WeTheNorth was tagged on the Brooklyn Bridge on the eve of the 2013-2014 playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. [Footnote 11]
Our Raptors have felt the impact of We The North and embraced it as the team’s mantra for how they think and act on and off the hardwood. The more they’ve lived this mindset and given fans reason to chant the cry with greater fervour, the more aspirational We The North has become to up-and-coming players. [Footnote 12]
- “This pre-season, going to Vancouver and Montreal, seeing our posters around, you just recognize how big that ‘We The North’ theme is and it’s cool...I love it, I love it, and everywhere I’m going I’m saying ‘We The North’ or if there’s a dusty car I’m writing ‘We The North’ on the dusty car.” – Amir Johnson
- “I knew it was a young, hard-working team, very scrappy, I knew they were going to fight ‘til the end of games and they really take the ‘We The North’ stuff really, really seriously; they really feel like they’re overlooked.” – Lou Williams
- Only #WeTheNorth was used in the tweets of the Raptors’ newest signings to tell their fans which city and team had picked them up.
This campaign was a unique situation for the Toronto Raptors. The team needed to be feted for the fact that it earned its first playoff berth in 6 years, but yet was getting little traction in traditional media headlines. Due to the incredibly tight timelines, and inability to secure a more sophisticated media buy prior to the final game of the 2013-2014 regular season, we purchased a relatively small national TV buy of $230,000 and invested heavily in the creative so it could do the heavy lifting on social media.
For the 2013-2014 season tickets, ticket prices actually increased 2.5% or an average of $2 per game (+3.64% based on the average single ticket price of $55) [Footnote 13].
Distribution of tickets remained the same for 2014-2015 season tickets.
Unusual Promotional Activity:
None. There was no promotional activity for 2014-2015 season tickets.
Other Potential Causes: