National pride swept Canadians off of their feet this year. From capturing 25 medals at the Winter Olympics, to the Raptors making the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2008, patriotism is alive and well, presenting a real opportunity for brands to create an emotional connection with consumers.
With #WeAreWinter and, more recently #WeTheNorth, sports marketers have nailed it this year. But why were these Canadiana campaigns so wildly successful? And what can other brands, particularly those outside the realm of sports, learn from them?
Here are three takeaways from the success of #WeTheNorth, which lit up Twitter and other social platforms throughout the playoffs:
1. Rooting for the underdog
Making the playoffs, and then taking it all the way to Game 7 was unprecedented for the Toronto Raptors. Nobody expected the team to reach that level of success this season, but as they began to defy expectations, excitement across Canada steadily grew. The Raps made a unexpected comeback and the fans went crazy.
Capitalizing on this momentum, the brand moved full-steam ahead with their #WeTheNorth campaign, launching it with a video that pulled on the heartstrings of everyone who loves to root for the underdog. Northern Uprising became a widely used slogan during the campaign and offered another story for the entire country to be part of. The Raptors' hype didn't focus on the fact that they unexpectedly made it into the NBA playoffs. Instead, they focused on the fact that they were doing something unexpected for Canada. This allowed them to create an emotional connection with a wider audience outside of basketball.
2. #WeTheNorth, not #WeTheToronto
During the playoffs this year, the Toronto Raptors became simply The Raptors. Despite being their hometown, Toronto was never the focus for their campaign. Instead, they created slogans that the entire country could relate to and support. This created a sense of cross-country pride that was echoed by the fact they truly were playing for Canada as the country's only NBA team.
In comparison, the Montreal Canadiens seem to have missed their opportunity. Despite being the only Canadian NHL team in the playoffs, the country lacks a united front when it comes to their support. Had the Canadiens put some extra weight behind their social marketing strategy, they may have found an opportunity to resonate with all Canadians on a national level.
3. Who cares about basketball?
Ultimately, the Raptors took Canadian pride far beyond the sport. The campaign's success had little to do with basketball and far more to do with Canadians showing support for their country. Making it to Game 7 was a Canadian success story, and the crowds that showed up in Maple Leaf Square, aka Jurassic Park, is testament to how well the campaign hit a nerve with Canadians.
Creating a campaign that people will relate to means creating a voice for your brand. The success comes less from focusing on what you are selling and more about creating that emotional connection with consumers or this case fans. Canadians rallied across the country during the NBA playoffs because they cared about Canada, not because there was a sudden influx in basketball fans.
So what did we learn? Almost two weeks after the Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs, #WeTheNorth remains relevant. Canadians are still using the slogan and hashtag because they relate to what it stands for and create their own stories to keep the spirit of the messaging alive.
Creating that kind of passion and connection to your brand is what every campaign should strive to achieve.
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.