OLG wanted an ad campaign, Taxi pitched a five-part documentary series

Who: Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and Ontario Racing, with Taxi for strategy and creative, Bug Content for production (directed by Jeremy Grand), Red Lab for series post-production,  Married to Giants and Alter Ego for advertising, and EssenceMediacom for media.

What: Unfiltered, a five-part unscripted docu-series that takes viewers onto the track, into the stables and beyond for an unfiltered look at horse racing—think the now world-famous F1 series Drive to Survive, but for Ontario horse racing.

When & Where: The first episode dropped June 5, viewable on Bell Media (Crave, TSN, TSN+) and online, with four more episodes to come monthly into October. The series is also being promoted through ads across Bell Media.

Why: Ontario Lottery and Gaming was looking for a new brand platform and campaign that would emphasize the entertainment value of the sport and draw more people going to tracks across Ontario. “What [horse racing has] to offer is this great night out, it’s entertainment, it’s excitement, it’s thrilling,” said Graham Lang, chief creative officer at Taxi. “As people are returning to live events, this is an amazing night out for Ontarians.”

Taxi started working on a variety of advertising platforms and creative ideas, but also came up with something entirely different.

To get more people going to the track, they reasoned that they should first start by bringing more people into the sport itself, through a behind-the-scenes documentary about horse racing in Ontario.

“We thought, well, if it’s about entertainment, and it’s about sports, why don’t we show an unprecedented and unfiltered raw version of the sport from an angle that has never been exposed before,” said Lang. “Make it unfiltered, put GoPros in places that have never gone before on a racetrack.

“What we’re doing is we’re taking inspiration from Drive to Survive, and turning an advertising campaign into an Ontario racing version of Drive to Survive.”

They tested two other ideas along with the docu-series, which eventually won out.

How: Taxi got award-winning Canadian documentarian Jeremy Grant on board to direct, and they started shooting in late winter. The goal is to both explain first the basics, and then the nuances of the sport, and introduce some of the key people involved in a raw and realistic fashion, which all serves to highlight the drama of the races themselves.

It validates the love of the sport for long-time fans, while elevating it for those less acquainted, explained Lang.

Aside from an opening credit super—“An original series by OLG [and] Ontario Racing”—there’s little about either brand, with the focus entirely on the horses, the horse people, and the sport.

“We were briefed to do a traditional advertising campaign. The solution was a branded entertainment platform that could go on for as many seasons as we wanted,” said Lang.

Each episode is about 15 minutes long. “Which kind of pulls you in, gives you enough, and leaves you wanting more,” said  Lang.

About that budget? If our math is right, five 15-minute documentaries seems like it would require a much bigger budget than the original ad campaign the client requested.

But the production costs weren’t the same as traditional ad production, said Lang. “The documentary approach means that we’re working with a much lighter team. There’s no big video village, there’s no expensive four-day shoots with huge lights…This is guerrilla filmmaking.”

But it also meant that both client and agency had to be willing to relinquish a great deal of control in the process.

“It was less about being on the set and waiting for the perfect lights,” said Lang. “You’ve got to take your hands off the wheel and let the documentary unfold. And if someone falls, they fall. If someone swears, they swear.”

The media: EssenceMediacom led the “multi-channel” partnership with Bell Media, which sees the series live organically on Crave as well as for streaming on TSN.ca and TSN’s YouTube channel. That’s supported by a targeted media strategy across Bell properties to drive viewership and engagement, said Lisa Kahn, executive director of media planning at EssenceMediacom.

“By partnering with Bell and leveraging all its Ontario properties, we will drive audiences to the docu-series,” she said. “Support includes CTV, Astral OOH, paid social, and custom segment integrations on CP24 that will highlight behind-the-scenes footage with driver interviews.”

And we quote: “Horse racing holds immense significance for the people of Ontario. With Unfiltered, OLG is thrilled to partner with Ontario Racing to shine a spotlight on the captivating stories and the fascinating aspects of the sport.”— Maxine Chapman, VP Brand and Marketing Officer of OLG.


David Brown