Toronto Raptors ‘We The North’ Embraces Difference

In the days immediately before the Toronto Raptors take on the Brooklyn Nets in the play-offs, Canada’s only NBA team rolled out a fresh campaign that aims to unite the nation’s basketball fans by reversing long held perceptions and shattering myths about the franchise’s supposed (non-US) lack of status and validity.


Long mocked by basketball fans for being different from all the other American teams, the ‘We The North’ initiative aims to turn a perceived negative into a unifying positive by embracing its ‘difference’, and celebrating its Canadian roots and culture (and even its weather).


Thus the campaign hopes to inspire and unite all basketball fans north of the 49th parallel.


The work builds on the franchises best regular season record in 19 years and is led by a spearhead commercial featuring footage of youngsters playing basketball in all weather conditions across Toronto’s basketball-loving neighbourhoods.


The spot’s narrator, who purposely sounds like the team’s global ambassador (and rap star) Drake, discusses how the team is ‘in a league of its own’, ‘one step removed’ and ‘beyond the boundaries’ and how the country and the culture breeds toughness and determination to succeed.


In addition to famous Toronto landmarks, even a husky makes an appearance in the ad in a visual reference to the team’s history (it was once called the Toronto Huskies).



The central 60-second spot, which has racked up 500,000 plus YouTube views in its first week, is also running on the giant Raptor’s home court scoreboard before the playoff games.


It is being supported by in-stadium signage, outdoor and print ads, digital and social work (led by the #WeTheNorth hashtag) and a further set of shorter campaign videos – including ‘We The North – Storm’ (35,000 YouTube views),



‘We The North – Flame’ (34,000 YouTube views)



and ‘We The North – Huddle’ (29,000 YouTube views)



Indeed, ‘We the North’ is evolving as more than just a set of play-off spots, but is being placed at the heart of the team’s approach – from its mission statement and identity, to its communication, apparel and the upcoming anniversary rebrand.


The campaign has been developed with Sid Lee’s Toronto office and is being led by creative directors  Dave Roberts, Jeffrey Da Silva and Tom Koukodimos.


The agency is also working on the Raptors rebrand which will see further fresh work, as well as new team colours and a new logo.


The strategy is that it will remain the ‘big idea’ behind Raptors marketing for the next few years.




Regardless of whether the ‘We The North’ has been inspired by (or borrowed from) the popular ‘Kings In The North’ phrase from hit/hip TV show of the minute Game of Thrones, it certainly is an effective and powerful piece of communication.


The organisation also shows flexible to adapt its strategy to the team’s evolving on court story


Originally the campaign was slated to launch next year to front the team’s 20th anniversary celebrations (and associated rebrand).


But both General Manager Masai Ujiri, who has long railed about the lack of validity of all the ‘bullshit’ that people say about Toronto’s team, and parent company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke decided the launch the campaign now at the start of the play offs to leverage the positivity and goodwill currently surrounding the team’s winning run and its increasingly respected rugged, never-quit playing reputation.


‘Masai and I were in love with it [the campaign] because we believe it’s a perfect description and image and tribute to our team and their blue collar, hard work, proud of Toronto. We don’t care what anybody says about us in the States, we love being here,’ says Leiweke.


‘And ironically, all the stuff we heard last year on why we couldn’t succeed, our team has busted through all of those myths. This spot is essentially that exact same thing, which is we took all the things that everyone said and said that would make for a great campaign, wouldn’t it?’


And, of course, Canadians can even lay claim to inventing the game of basketball back in 1891.




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Sid Lee



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