As NBA playoff fever has spread across the GTA and beyond, companies, retailers and even government agencies have jumped on the Raptors-themed public relations bandwagon.
Almost everywhere you look — on social media, TV, and in newspapers — businesses both private and public are expressing their love and appreciation for a team that has grown in confidence, talent and influence, much like Toronto itself has over the 23 years since the Raptors joined the league.
On Thursday, McDonald’s Canada, a sponsor of the team, released an ad in which its famous golden arches are drained of the colour. “In support of the Raps, our arches are no longer in a golden state,” the company tweeted.
Netflix Canada tweeted on Thursday night to its 314,000 followers “that if you’re watching Netflix tonight instead of the Raptor’s historic game 1, then you’re letting down all of Toronto, all of Canada and all of Drake.”
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Walk by the AGO and you’ll see its big letters wrapped in Raptors colours. And GO Transit has declared that until the end of the NBA Finals, the Quiet Zone on its trains is renamed the “Kawhi-it Zone.”
But is all this well-wishing simple enthusiasm? Or are businesses using the opportunity to further their own brands by getting in on the excitement surrounding the Raps?
Advertising executives and creative directors the Star spoke to say it’s probably a bit of both.
Peter Ignazi, global chief creative officer at Cossette, Canada’s largest advertising agency and the one responsible for the recent McDonald’s ad, said there is plenty of genuine hype for what’s happening in Toronto right now.
“I think that the marketers at these companies and the advertisers, they’re all fans and people who live in this city too,” he said.
He noted, however, that businesses also have to make money and build long-term brand affinity.
“It’s kind of an easy way to do it, to piggyback on … a lot of love that already exists, a lot of excitement that already exists. If you can do it right, then you can really get a huge halo effect from something like this.”
Ignazi said within a couple of hours, the recent McDonald’s ad was one of the company’s most shared campaigns ever on social media. “So it’s not just people feeling good about it, it’s actually work.”
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Angus Tucker, chief creative officer of Toronto-based John St. Advertising, said the proliferation of Raptors-themed ads is largely the result of the fact that “everybody loves a winner” and companies and their employees are just as excited as everyone else watching the Raptors. John St. represents Tangerine, a major sponsor of the team.
“I think we all as tortured Toronto sports fans, when we went down 0-2 to the Bucks, we all just went ah … we’re going to get swept,” he said. “And then in seven days all of a sudden we’re in the Finals. I think collectively everybody kind of just became a 5-year-old child again … I think (companies) just want to literally be part of it, be part of this community of love and good feelings and pride.”
While municipalities across the GTA are certainly not trying to make a buck off the Raptors’ success, they are getting on the love bandwagon for the team by creating their own outdoor Jurassic Park viewing venues for residents. In Mississauga alone, an estimated 20,000 watched Game 1 from Celebration Square on Thursday.
This kind of collectivism is exactly what the creators of the Raptors’ We The North campaign at creative agency Sid Lee had in mind, said Jared Stein, executive vice president, innovation and growth at the firm.
“(We The North) started with a celebration of a team and a city but it was intended to be embraced by far more than just the GTA. It was intended to spread. It was intended to become this feeling and emotion that had no boundaries,” Stein said.
The fact that cities are sort of co-opting that movement and that sentiment and they’re trying to recreate it,” he said. “I think for me it’s like that’s the amazing thing.”
Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org