Not all Toronto Raptors ads are created equal

A neuromarketing analysis ranks how fans responded to 14 ads, with QSR chain Osmow's on top of the list.

Numerous brands have been creating content to throw their support behind the Toronto Raptors during their playoff run, but a neuromarketing study looking at some longer-term campaigns reveals that even smaller brands have an ability to capitalize on the good will fans have towards their favourite teams and players.

Neuromarketing firm Brainsights worked with sports marketing and experiential agency SDI Marketing to measure their unconscious reaction to seeing Raptors players in advertising on May 30, right before the first NBA Finals tipped-off. The study enlisted 71 people who identified as Raptors fans, showing them a mix of 14 different ads, mixed between game highlights and sports news segments (the participants viewed the ads just hours before Game 1 began, and as such didn’t see the wealth of content that brands created to support the Raptors’ Finals run). The EEG brainwave analysis measured attention, emotional connection and encoding to memory, with the firms using those measures to create a composite ranking for each ad. While the study was quite small, it gleaned some interesting (surprising) insights that might be useful to marketers looking to help their brands tap into Raptors fever these days.

The top-performing ad was not from a national brand or one of the team’s big sponsors, but Ontario-based Mediterranean fast casual chain Osmow’s. The ad features players Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell tossing aside food from other QSR options and declaring Osmow’s “your go-to shawarma spot,” before realizing the tossed food landed on the person holding the boom mic.

Kevin Keane, CEO and co-founder of Brainsights, said in an e-mail that trends revealed throughout the study could explain why Osmow’s outperformed larger brands with bigger budgets like GoDaddy, Google and Snickers. Raptors fans have embraced the “underdog” spirit of the team as they prepared to face the Golden State Warriors, which have won three of the last four NBA Championships. Osmow’s, a smaller shawarma chain stepping onto a national stage, embodied that underdog spirit, helped by the fact that the ad featured two of the team’s bench players.

That underdog trend is also embodied in the second-best performing ad, a GoDaddy spot featuring CJ Miles, who was also part of the team’s “bench mob” before he was traded earlier this year. The ad that kicked off GoDaddy’s long-term platform featuring Raptors players pursuing entrepreneurial passions – Jonas Valančiūnas’s “Itty Bitty Ballers” campaign from 2017 – also performed well, coming in at number six. Despite the fact that both ads feature players who no longer play for the team, Keane says that Raptors fans still feel a connection to the players even after they have left.

Both of those points are also shown in the fifth-best performing ad from Sprite, which features OG Anunoby (a rising star on the Raptors who started six games this season) and Delon Wright (who was also traded earlier this year).

For other brands looking active with teams and athletes, Keane said this shows that campaigns do not need to feature top stars in order to resonate with fans (who will likely be familiar with players at all levels), and should consider a range of talent to maximize the value of their campaigns.

Four ads featuring top players from the Warriors (three with Stephen Curry, who has been on fire this season, and one with Kevin Durant, who has suffered a series of injuries lately) were included in the study for comparison, and ended up being the poorest-performing ads in the study, taking the bottom four spots. But another ad featuring a non-Raptor, a spot from Gatorade with recently retired Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade and his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, was the third-highest ranked ad in the study. Keane points to this discrepancy as something that emphasizes the importance of context in shaping consumer mindsets, something Brainsights has found in its other work. While admitting that it is beyond the scope of this study, he posits that the ads featuring star players like Curry and Durant may have performed better three months ago, when their team wasn’t standing between the Raptors and winning the championship.

Full ranking of ads in the study:

1. Osmow’s – “Osmow’s is Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell’s spot!” (Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell)

2. GoDaddy – “CJ’s PJs” (CJ Miles)

3. Gatorade – “Keep Moving” (Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union)

4. New Balance - “We Got Now” (Kawhi Leonard)

5. Sprite – “Lemon vs Lime” (OG Anunoby, Delon Wright)

6. GoDaddy – “Itty Bitty Ballers” (Jonas Valančiūnas)

7. Google – “Google Home Mini – The GTA” (Danny Green)

8. PlayStation 4 – “DeMar DeRozan’s Toughest Opponent Yet” (DeMar DeRozan)

9. Google – “Google Home Mini – Lights Out” (Danny Green, Kyle Lowry)

10. Snickers – “Hunger Vision” (Cory Joseph)

11. Nike – “What It Takes” (Kevin Durant)

12. Under Armour – “Steph Curry Introduces The Curry 5” (Stephen Curry)

13. Infiniti – “Nicest Guy In Basketball” (Steph Curry)

14. Under Armour – “Scientifically Tested. Steph Curry Proven.” (Steph Curry)