The Toronto Raptors exceeded expectations this year, breaking a franchise record for wins before being eliminated from the playoffs during the Eastern Conference Finals. This was the team’s longest playoff run ever, and alongside their on-court success, the Raptors are still seeing the benefits of their 2014 “We the North” rebranding campaign, which elevated fan engagement to a level never before seen by the franchise.

Staff Writer: Coleman Pete

At the end of the Raptors’ 2014 regular season, the team was struggling to attract public support and began searching for rebranding opportunities. Montreal-based creative agency Sid Lee won the rights to develop the Raptors’ brand identity, and over the course of two days, shot a 60-second commercial on the asphalt basketball courts of the Greater Toronto Area. The video itself was gritty and dark, featuring young Torontonians playing basketball on courts surrounded by snowbanks, alongside footage of Raptor stars. A narration described the pride associated with being the only Canadian team in the NBA, and the isolation they often felt  from being “far from the east side, miles from the west side” and “nowhere near the south side.”

That statement shifted the focus of the campaign from a local movement to one that all Canadians could support. Sid Lee hoped that the multicultural youth depicted in the commercial would resonate with the populations of many other Canadian cities, and thereby evoke a national response. Clearly, it worked – social media hits and ticket sales to new customers both increased by unprecedented amounts. Furthermore, the campaign successfully united Torontonian immigrants from all over the world under the banner of a single team. The campaign capitalized on a tremendous opportunity to redefine the brand, and was successful not only in Toronto but also nationwide.

Earlier this month, crowds filled the Air Canada Center to watch the Raptors play, with hundreds more piling into the fan-dubbed “Jurassic Park” to watch the game on a large screen. Many fans wore black “We The North” t-shirts and hats – a testament to the success of the branding campaign that evolved into a full-fledged movement. It is hard to believe that a 60-second commercial could have such an impact on so many people, but considering its success thus far, it has kindled a populous and loyal fanbase which is almost as vigorous as the animal after which the Raptors were named.