As the excitement for the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang ramps up, Olympics committees around the world are beginning to pour on the promotions of their participation and athletes. Team Canada, often a leading medal winner at the winter games, has launched a highly impactful brand platform, ‘Be Olympic,’ that includes powerful work from its agency of record, Sid Lee.
Unlike most Olympics advertising, the imagery is stark, highly artistic and presents an array of stories about the athletes and some of the success and adversity they have faced. Within the film work, for example, there is an interesting density that stitches together compelling athlete narratives, encouraging people to discover their backstories.
“We made a conscious and deliberate decision that we did not want to show a sport brand spot that features a montage of training scenes to a sound bed of pulsating music — and showcasing athletes throwing large truck tires, sweating and lifting weights,” says Derek Kent, chief marketing officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC). “Once you make that decision, then the creative doors open up.”
The creativity is evident, but the core of the work and platform is a result of deep insight gleaned from both the COC and Sid Lee.
“Sid Lee spoke to Canadian fans, national sports federations, athletes, coaches and agents — everyone in the constellation of the Team Canada movement, there were conversations,” notes Kent. “What came up time and time again was this idea that Canadian athletes want to have an impact bigger than just sport, and what was also revealed in some of that insight work is the sense that Canada is an unexpected leader in uncertain times.”
Indeed, Team Canada has had a solid run, punching above their weight in the 2016 summer games in Rio with 22 medals. But in the winter games, Canada is at or near the top of the medal count, garnering a leading 14 gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver games, a source of national pride that squarely put Canada in the spotlight.
“It changed the trajectory of sport in this country and certainly put Vancouver on the map globally,” says Kent.
Going one step further, the idea of a single athlete as a brand in and of itself is counter to Canada, a country that, though competitive, counts humility, fairness and the collective versus the individual as a fundamental ethos.
“The conversation in sports is stagnating,” says Tom Koukodimos, executive creative director and partner at Sid Lee. “It's become individual brands of athletes that we tend to talk about more so than the team or any collective storytelling and betterment if you will. Where I think the notion of ‘Be Olympic’ works is that there is the opportunity for individual stories, but there is a community around that. There's a ‘we’ aspect to being Olympic. Because I think to be Olympic is a ripple effect into a broader sense of good and doing well.”
Koukodimos also adds that the concept works within the context of Canadian society in general.
“To be Olympic is a way of life that we feel Canadians do whether they realize it or not,” he says. “I think a lot of people [in Canada] live this way, but I think it's important to stop and acknowledge because it may be so obvious that it's there that it's missed.”
The main traits that emerged in the research, the things that make these athletes uniquely Canadian and which led to the strategy included: determination, bravery, resiliency, courage, unity, strength, grace and leadership. From there, Sid Lee molded the concepts together, featuring the back stories — some very dramatic — of the athletes evoked in the initial work.
Snowboarder Mark McMorris, for example, suffered a massive injury, with 17 broken bones, after hitting a tree backcountry snowboarding and speed skater Denny Morrison was in a motorcycle accident and, after recovering from that near-death experience then suffered a stroke.
“We said, ‘How do we bring Denny’s story to life?’ Well, there are two ways. You can focus on the training and the comeback, or you can focus on the accident, which is a brand-new way of storytelling around athletes,” notes Kent.
Other, less intense back stories emerging from the film include the grace of figure skaters Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel and the unity of the Dufour-Lapointe sisters, all freestyle skiers from Quebec who came together to support each other, even though one of the sisters didn’t make the medal podium.
Wrapping up the film and illustrating leadership and excellence are three legendary women’s hockey players: Hayley Wickenheiser, Vicky Sunohara and Caroline Ouellette who not only put women’s hockey on the map but elevated it beyond merely a once-every-four-year presence.
“If it were not for these women, the sport of women's hockey would not be anywhere close to where it is today, nowhere close,” says Kent. “They are the Mount Rushmore of hockey players in Canada.”
With compelling stories to tell the COC and Sid Lee have identified that the ‘Be Olympic’ platform is not as perishable as some past work for Team Canada, including the well-received ‘We Are Winter’ and ‘Ice In Our Veins’ campaigns.
“We see ‘Be Olympic’ as a brand new platform for the COC moving forward, giving a greater sense of purpose to the athletes,” says Koukodimos. “There's a long game here to play a role in supporting our athletes not just during the games, but beyond the games. I think the insight of where we're just celebrating medals; we're losing a huge part of the story and purpose around the games and the athletes' stories. That was important to tap into something that resonated during and beyond the games.”
To that end, the COC will leverage the creative in many ways outside of the films, including additional video content, out of home, print and especially on social media, where the COC has continued to see ample and consistent global growth on their platforms.
“We are so proud of this work,” says Kent. “And we want Canadians to walk away wanting to learn more about these athlete stories and what it means to ‘Be Olympic’.”