How partnering with the Raptors became a slam-dunk for QSR chain Osmow’s

The NBA Finals match-up between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors is a real David and Goliath scenario. And that’s just the commercial breaks.

Nestled among commercials for major advertisers like Google, No Frills and Tangerine, Finals viewers have been seeing a pair of simple but charming spots for the Mediterranean-inspired QSR chain Osmow’s.

The two :15 ads follow Raptors bench players Norm Powell and Fred Van Vleet inside an Osmow’s restaurant. In one ad, Powell describes Osmow’s as a “go-to” place for shawarma that is akin to a go-to spot for burgers and pizza, all while casually tossing food onto a disgruntled sound guy.

In a second ad, the two players are shown standing at the counter when Van Vleet asks “What’s that Chicken on the Rocks?” only to meet with incredulous stares from Osmow’s diehards and a cry from one customer: “Who ARE these guys?”

The TV campaign debuted two weeks before the start of the NBA playoffs and was originally booked to run through the Eastern Conference Finals. But positive customer response—sales at Osmow’s downtown Toronto stores have jumped by between 35% and 40% since its debut—convinced Osmow’s to blow its marketing budget and run the ads through the NBA Finals.

“We bit the bullet and definitely surpassed our marketing budget, but we’ve reaped the rewards ever since,” says Osmow’s franchising and operations director, Ben Osmow, who said that the campaign will account for nearly half of the company’s annual marketing budget. “Our TSN [sales rep] told us ‘I’m pretty sure you guys are the smallest company to ever do an NBA Finals commercial.’

“We’ve never been shy to spend money on marketing, and that’s the reason we’ve been able to grow so much,” adds Osmow. “A lot of franchisors tend to stick to their marketing budget, but we stay true to our potential not our budget, and that’s what has made the difference in the past couple of years.”

Osmow’s launched in 2001 and has grown to 71 locations across Ontario, with plans to open its first out-of-province store in Alberta later this year. “Our goal is to be the largest Mediterranean option across North America,” says Osmow.

The company opened 19 new locations in 2018, and is on track to open as many as 30 new restaurants this year. Osmow says he expects the company to be in the majority of Canadian provinces by the end of 2020.

Osmow’s worked with Wasserman Sports & Entertainment to get access to Powell and Van Vleet, two of the team’s young up-and-coming players.

“We saw a lot of potential in them as young guys being part of the team and being able to contribute in a big way,” says Osmow, who also helped pen the scripts for the commercials. “We were definitely aiming for players that were on their way up, the same way we are.”

Using athletes in commercials can be a decidedly risky venture, but Powell and Van Vleet turned out to be naturals in front of the camera. “We’ve heard of situations where commercials can get really awkward, but they were really great,” says Osmow. “Norm especially was charismatic. It’s not too often where shooting commercials is fun for these guys, but they were having a lot of fun.”

The spots were produced by Mississauga-based Imagine Nation Collective, whose previous work with Osmow’s had tended to focus on launch videos for new products, such as Shawarma Poutine.

“The point of [the campaign] was acknowledging that we’re not the biggest brand in the world—yet—and introducing it to people,” says Osmow. “The message is not just that ‘We’re Osmow’s,’ but ‘If you don’t know us, you should.'”

Osmow also credits the campaign with doubling franchisee applications. “We’ve had applications from areas we couldn’t even imagine, including one of the Territories,” he said. “Sales are up and franchisees are more than happy. These commercials have really accentuated the brand.”

Osmow expects the company to do $50 million in sales this year, up from approximately $31 million last year. While much of the growth is attributable to new store openings, Osmow says that same-store sales are up approximately 21% over last year.

“A lot of people almost got that validation from the commercials that they should go and try this place,” says Osmow. “I get messages every single day from our franchisees talking about customers that came in because of the commercial. [The commercials] are an point of introduction and that was our whole purpose: introduce people to the brand and what it’s about.”


Chris Powell