Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

How McDonald’s Canada’s Toronto Raptors Themed Dessert Proved a Slam Dunk

Advertising Agency
Toronto, Canada
Cossette’s Leilah Ambrose and McDonald’s Canada’s Chuck Coolen on why a McFlurry named after Pascal Siakam was the perfect collaboration for bringing the hype, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

Fans of the Toronto Raptors love Pascal Siakam. Since joining the team in 2016, he’s become a two time NBA All-Star, won a league award for most improved player, and in 2019, brought home a long-awaited NBA championship to the league’s northernmost city. 

As such, when McDonald’s Canada - in partnership with creative agency Cossette - announced the arrival of the ‘Siakam Swirl McFlurry’, people were pretty hyped. After all, fans of the team or not, the chance to indulge in vanilla soft-serve mixed with hot fudge and crushed Red SMARTIES is an opportunity that anyone with a love of sugar probably won’t say no to. 

But beyond that, this was also a brand and agency first. In fact, the new, limited time McFlurry represents the first-ever McDonald’s Canada menu item to be inspired by an athlete… meaning that when promoting it, it was time to pull out all the stops. Featuring the titular man himself, the campaign saw the release of a video in which, at a press conference, Siakam renames his signature spin move… to a swirl - which is also what makes McFlurries. Promoted via TV spots, online videos, social, and OOH to drive awareness, the campaign even saw a Siakam Swirl-branded McFlurry truck park outside the Scotiabank Arena, providing fans of the team an opportunity to try this delicious new offering. 

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Cossette group creative director Leilah Ambrose, and McDonald’s eastern Canada marketing lead Chuck Coolen, to discuss how this came to pass, what the brand-first means to them, and why Pascal Siakam was the perfect player to commemorate. 

LBB> This campaign represents a brand milestone: the first McDonald’s Canada item to be inspired by an athlete. As such, what was the brief, and what made Pascal Siakam the perfect player to commemorate? 

Chuck> With all of our Raptors projects, we start from a point of wanting to help fans enjoy their Raptors experience. When we started to dig into the opportunity, the dots began to connect. The Raptors played their first game in 1995. In that same year, our McDonald’s Canada owner/operator Ron McLellan created the ‘McFlurry’. That was our leaping off point, as both the Raptors and the McFlurry are symbols of Canadian pride. 

This sparked our menu team’s creativity, and they explored different recipes that would reflect the intersection where the Raptors and the McFlurry meet. As we were developing the recipe, we learned that Pascal Siakam enjoyed a McFlurry on his first visit to McDonald’s, and that he has maintained his love for the product, making him the perfect match for our first-ever partnership.

Leilah> Cossette was briefed to launch a regional, limited-time offer: a McFlurry collab between the Toronto Raptors and McDonald’s Canada. Our unique opportunity lay in the fact that all elements, including merch, had the same timeline. This is rare, and gave us licence to both name and position the product however we saw fit. 

Pascal’s involvement began with what we call a ‘fan truth’: things that feel universally and quintessentially McDonald’s. Ours centred on ‘everyone has their favourite McDonald’s order’, including professional athletes. As it happens, Pascal’s first memory of McDonald’s was having a McFlurry - an insight that’s authentic, adorable, and therefore very McD’s. 

LBB> Where does one start on a campaign like this, and at what point did you decide to centre the campaign around Siakam’s signature move?

Leilah> Cossette’s strategy positioned our collab as a ‘Raptors twist on a McDonald’s classic’. Playing with the word ‘twist’ unlocked our creative approach. Pascal Siakam is known for his famous spin move, which he uses to outmanoeuvre opponents and change the outcome of the game. 

In addition to that, at the moment, Pascal is one of the most exciting athletes on the Raptors roster. But instead of just using Pascal as the face of the campaign, the team saw creative richness in finding a natural tie between the product and his signature move. 

Chuck> It was a natural fit from the beginning, as the team saw the connection between Pascal’s signature spin move and the method that McDonald’s employs to make its McFlurry. Using Pascal’s spin move as inspiration, we leaned into this throughout the creative process.

LBB> Building on this, the campaign is meant to tap into Siakam’s natural fandom. Did you do anything to make this especially appealing to fans of the player?

Chuck> We were adamant that whatever content we produced, it needed to reflect true to Pascal. Every step of the way, we ensured that Pascal’s voice and playful personality came through.

Leilah> We totally benefited from the real fans on our own team. One of our strat leads, as well as our creative team, are Raptors fans, so they were able to channel their instincts into ideas that would resonate. 

We also threw in a few additional Easter eggs for fans. For example, we tapped known Raptors play-by-play announcer Matt Devlin to be the voice talent in both the spot and our radio script. Raptors fans have picked it up and loved it, and it sweetened the pot that Matt was excited to get in on the joke. In fact, he’s recently taken to occasionally calling the move ‘a swirl’ during in-game commentary! 

We’ve also beefed up our campaign structure beyond OLV, display and organic social, with in-arena signage and free McFlurry samples for fans during home games. 

LBB> Tell us about the recipe itself! How long did it take to develop, and did Siakam himself have a say in it?

Chuck> The menu team developed different options that were inspired by the intersection where the Raptors and the McDonald’s McFlurry meet - keeping Pascal in mind throughout the process. Pascal, of course, was a part of the process in choosing what was going to be his signature flavour, and this led us to the ‘Siakam Swirl McFlurry’. The new treat is made with rich and creamy vanilla soft serve combined with a swirl of decadent hot fudge, and crushed Red SMARTIES. The Raptors team colours have never been tastier! 

LBB> The spot is super fun! What was the writing process like, and how did the joke about Siakam’s spin being a swirl come to pass?

Leilah> Hey, thanks! The entire team had a blast with it. I mean, how could you not?

Regarding the joke, it actually did begin with a couple of product truths. To make a McFlurry, you have to ‘swirl’ the soft serve into a cup, and the product picks up on team colours by combining a swirl of hot fudge with Red SMARTIES bits. 

These product realities, combined with Pascal’s authentic love of the McFlurry, led the team to wonder: what if Pascal was so enamoured with this latest McFlurry innovation, that he became inspired to rename his signature move from ‘a spin’ to ‘a swirl’. The concept came to life by referencing the world of basketball - such as press conferences about major player announcements, or play-by-play announcer talk tracks - to make our ‘rebranding’ feel cheekily legit. 

LBB> Who directed the spot, and what made them perfect for the job?

Leilah> We were so lucky to have the talent of Cameron Harris, whom we got through the Canadian production company Feels Like Home. 

In Cameron, we found a unicorn. He’s worked with professional athletes in the past. His reel showed that he could capture the humour we were looking for. Plus, he has extensive food experience, so he knew the product needed to be shown off to its most delicious advantage. His treatment came back with surprising details and ideas, proving his enthusiasm for the project. And yes, creatives, he’s wonderfully collaborative as well. 

LBB> In general, how was shooting? Where did you shoot, how long did it take, and what was it like to work with Pascal Siakam?

Leilah> We shot the spot and two additional six-second spots in a single 12-ish hour shoot day. 

Regarding Pascal, he was a delight to work with. Not only is he personable and authentically in love with his namesake product, he’s got range too! Professional athletes are superhuman in so many ways, but acting isn’t often their core competency. Pascal was engaged, very open to direction, and blew us away with his natural comic timing. It was a dream come true. 

LBB> This campaign will also see a Siakam Swirl-branded McFlurry truck parked outside Raptors games. Who did you work with to bring this to life, and where did the idea come from?

Leilah> We knew we wanted to host a media event with Pascal at the helm, handing out McFlurries through the window (he developed a fondness for making a few himself!). So, we wrapped a sampling truck with campaign collateral, and have made great use of it in experiential placements like games and events. 

Cossette led the creative on the truck, and Prime and our PR partner, Weber Shandwick, carried out the truck design and placements. 

LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them?

Leilah> We knew Pascal was keen to participate, but we had to ensure we could sync with his busy schedule. Both our clients and his management worked hard to make it happen, so it all worked out beautifully!

Chuck> A project like this has many stakeholders involved, including Pascal Siakam, the Raptors, McDonald’s Canada, Nestlé, and our content partners. We ensured that all of the stakeholders were supportive of the vision behind the project, which allowed us to maintain it from beginning to final product and marketing content.  

LBB> What lessons have you learned from the making of this campaign?

Leilah> A couple of things. Firstly, finding the right ambassador or public figure can really make or break a campaign. And secondly, it’s important to always document the process. Our content creator came to the set to catch magic, including off-the-cuff moments that happened behind the scenes. These ultimately expanded into fantastic native social content. 

Chuck> The project was a constant reminder that fit is important. The best partnerships happen when you invest the time to find the common points connecting the brand, the partner(s) and the fans. We couldn’t be more thrilled with Pascal’s passion for the partnership, as well as the fans’ response. 

LBB> And speaking of the fans, how have people reacted to this new campaign? 

Leilah> Unbelievably well - so much so that fans have even begun using ‘Siakam Swirl’ when reposting game highlights. And while 99% positive sentiment is important (and awesome), sales and category lift metrics always prove whether the creative did its job. In our case, they’ve blown way past our benchmarks. It’s not just fun, it really moved the needle! 

Beyond this, Pascal himself is a big fan, going out of his way to share UGC, even going so far as to ask us to shoot footage of him buying his niece a McFlurry before jetting off to the All-Star Game. 

Chuck> The feedback that we’re receiving on the campaign from consumers has been extremely positive, both in restaurants and on social media. Again, we couldn’t be more thrilled with Pascal’s passion for the partnership and the fans’ response. 

LBB> How long will the Swirl be available for?

Leilah> The Siakam Swirl McFlurry is only available in Ontario, until March 13th 2023, or while supplies last (as we say in the biz). 

LBB> Have you tried the Siakam Swirl?

Leilah> Oh, have I ever. I don’t think I’ve had a McFlurry since I was a kid… but I’ve gone spoon-happy a few times on this bad boy. I regret nothing! 

LBB> Is there anything you’d like to add?

Leilah> Simply this: our team is deeply indebted to our wonderful McDonald’s Canada clients. They were intensely collaborative, trusting, and dedicated partners at every step of this adventure. They’ve been true extensions of our team in many meaningful ways. We’re so glad we did them proud. 

Chuck> You still have time to try a Siakam Swirl McFlurry, as it’s only available in participating restaurants across Ontario for a limited time! It is sooooooooo swirly!