The Canadian Olympic Committee asks: what is victory without virtue?

Why Canadian values are at the centre of the organization's first brand platform.
Canadian Olympic Committee-Team Canada unveils bold new -Be Olym

“What is victory without virtue? Are Olympians just athletes or are they something more?”

Those are two of the questions at the heart of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s (COC) new brand platform, unveiled on Jan. 23, that celebrates Canadian athletes by aligning their values with those already at the core of the Olympics.

Debuting just a few weeks ahead of the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, the committee’s “Be Olympic” platform centres around a hero spot entitled “Virtue and Victory,” which features the tagline “Be Virtuous. Be Victorious. Be Olympic.” According to Colin Freeman, the committee’s senior manager of brand marketing, it’s the first time the COC has developed a platform that will lead the body’s work and be used in future campaigns.

Dreamlike in its execution, the feature spot bestows a kind of mythological status upon Canada’s Olympians. A host of athletes – including long-track speed skater Denny Morrison, freestyle skiing sisters Chloé, Maxime and Justine Dufour-Lapointe and figure skaters Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel – are honoured for what the COC says are their Canadian values: resiliency, courage, unity, strength, leadership and excellence. Snowboarder Mark McMorris, for instance, suffered serious injuries in March before going through rehab and getting back on his board – and becomes a stand-in for determination and bravery in the campaign.

“Really, it came down to a decision to use our feature spot to be filled with intrigue and to introduce the stories,” says Freeman, “instead of attempting to follow them in full within the limited time that we have in that spot.” He says the drama and tension explicit in the video are meant to get viewers to want to watch it over and over again, with the hope that they’ll to go find the full stories that are central to the campaign.

The eight-week effort also includes 10-, 30- and 60-second spots detailing athletes’ stories, as well as digital video content and out-of-home, print and social ads. All the platform assets will be made available at

“Be Olympic” was developed by Sid Lee, which in 2016 was named the COC’s creative AOR through the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. OMD is handling media for the campaign, with Zync on digital and North Strategic on PR.

The platform was revealed during a presentation at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario. Derek Kent, CMO of the COC, said during the reveal that the platform represents a shift in how Canada represents itself on the international stage. He said that there’s an “undeniable link” between Canadian values and core Olympics values.

The COC’s Rio 2016 Olympic Games marketing work, led by Cossette, showcased a very different side of Canadians: their cold-bloodedness. The idea was that while the games would be taking place in the summer, Canada’s athletes had trained through brutal winter conditions, giving them an athletic edge. The brand took a similar approach with its Proximity-led #Wearewinter campaign ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

With a $14 million price tag, the Sochi campaign was the committee’s largest at the time. Freeman says the COC’s marketing budget has remained “very lean” and “in line with that on the whole.” It continues to rely completely on donated media space beyond its own channels, which partly explains its mobile- and social-first media strategy.

Prior to the Jan. 23 reveal, the COC had already highlighted over 100 athletes’ stories across Team Canada’s social media channels as part of its 100-day countdown to the games in PyeongChang.

In addition to designing the COC’s new offices in Toronto, Sid Lee Architecture also designed the Canada Olympic House, located just outside Gangneug Olympic park. This year, the house will be open to more people than ever before in a gesture intended to show Canadians’ hospitality and friendship.