New COC Campaign to Showcase Canada’s Olympians

When the Canadian Olympic Committee first sat down to discuss a strategy for the 2012 Olympics in London a key priority was to find a way to make the games something people think about any time – not just every other year for a few weeks.

The COC was coming off of a hugely successful games in Vancouver – where Canadian sponsorship revenue from the 2010 games soared to more than $730-million – and the organization wanted that momentum to extend well beyond the closing ceremonies.

“This can’t be about Canadians celebrating the Olympic movement every two years. That’s not how you build a brand,” said Chris Overholt, chief executive officer of the COC. “You have to find more natural points for the brand to connect with Canadians.”

To do that, Mr. Overholt’s team is launching a new campaign Monday that will showcase the journey of Canada’s Olympians, and, if all goes well, boost brand equity for big corporate sponsors such as BCE Inc., Hudson’s Bay Co. and RBC Dominion Securities Inc. To get there, the COC has designed ads that bear a resemblance to one of the world’s most valuable sports brands: Nike.

The similarities aren’t merely coincidental; the COC’s chief marketing officer, Derek Kent, joined the team last year from Nike where he held several communications roles and was global spokesman at three Olympic Games. “We want to pull back the curtain on what it takes to be an Olympian,” Mr. Kent said. “Hopefully corporate Canada sees the value, which means more resources for athletes.”

He asked veteran commercial director Henry Lu to volunteer time to create the COC’s first television ads set to broadcast across the country over the next few months. Mr. Lu has previously directed spots for Google and Wal-Mart, as well as producing Nike’s first “Just Do It” commercial. His artistic influence in the COC’s ad is obvious from the colour palette, to the sweaty, behind-the-scenes look at the training that goes into being an athlete. Like a Nike swoosh in a shoe ad, the trademark Olympic rings make appearances, but aren’t overwhelming.

Ads featuring the athletes will also be posted in airports and on billboards across the country. The Canadian Olympic Committee is funded 98 per cent by private sector sponsors.

Also important to the strategy are the online-only documentary-style videos that get to know athletes such as boxer Mary Spencer and swimmer Ryan Cochrane. “That is, in part, how Canadians emotionally connect to the team, and how our marketing partners emotionally connect to Canadians,” Mr. Overholt said.

The social aspects of the games also helps lessen the Olympic halo effect by providing a way for fans to keep up with athletes after the Olympic flame is extinguished. “These will be the most social games ever and we want to tap into that,” Mr. Kent said. The internet offers advertisers metrics to track consumer reactions to the media and products, and the sponsors have indicated that the digital side to this campaign is valuable.

Where Nike has “Just Do It,” the COC launched a similarly aspirational slogan with the campaign: “Give Your Everything.” Mr. Overholt said the slogan is meant to transcend sport and athletes to reach fans, and corporate partners as well.

Despite similarities to well-known sports brands, the new slogan and look at an athlete’s journey emphasize the longevity and sustainability of the Olympic brand, according to Jeannette Hanna, a toronto-based author and brand strategist. “I think the sentiment is appropriate. Maybe it doesn’t have to be unique as long as it works.”