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Brand Olympics: patriotism, positivity and praise from Vancouver 2010

Posted by: Erin O'Keefe on March 02, 2010

I’m holding myself back; attempting herein to exercise some manner of journalistic restraint.

Faced with the prospect of wrapping up 17 days of serious Olympics glory, I’m full of superlatives. Visitors to the games can’t stop talking about the incredible athletic performances, classic West Coast warmth, the genuine quality of a good Hoser party, and maybe just a little pride about The Greatest Hockey Game of All Time.  I went out to experience the Olympics, but like so many other Canadians, was not alone in my astonishment of just how patriotic we can be.

But I also went out to the games with some nerdy brand curiosity: which brands would really deliver an Olympics-worthy performance, and which would take advantage of a superficial alignment with sports? Which brands – Canadian or international – would deliver intelligent, imaginative and inspiring brand experiences beyond the promises their ads were making?

Quick reminder: there was nothing scientific about my methodology, so I’ll wrap up by listing favourites based on the most visible brand categories at the 2010 Olympics: retail, corporate, financial services, and place/country brands.

Retail brand: Hudson's Bay Company HBC remains a stand-out brand for its ability to garner mass appeal (mittens on Oprah!), but also for its commitment to contribute US $4 per pair of mittens to Own The Podium, the group that supports athletes and was arguably a critical factor to Canada’s record 14 Gold Medals (best ever by a host Winter Olympics nation, in case you didn’t know). They had originally capped the contribution, but the overage will go back to sport, including Paralympic athletic endeavors.

Corporate: GE Beginning with a TV ad series entitled Healthymagination, GE demonstrated a genuine commitment to health while remaining true to their brand idea. It was intelligent for GE to use its masterbrand in all of its advertising, considering our interaction with GE as consumers may be limited. Rather than create an ad series that played too hard on the Olympics, they chose a subject that helped us learn more about the diversity of their offering on a subject relevant to viewers. On CTV, GE was the sponsor for a terrific series with Dr. Bill Wells, a Toronto-based physiologist and sports expert who taught viewers about the biomechanics that power our athletes. Their mobile medical units were on-site throughout the games to keep athletes healthy as well. Great work, GE.

Financial: RBC It's no question that RBC owned the games from a visibility perspective. I’d be surprised if any games visitors would have missed the fact that RBC has been supporting Olympic athletes since 1947, or that it was the force behind the torch relay. That's an incredible commitment of time and effort and our athletes really have benefited from it. However, I would have liked RBC to have come up with more creative campaigns than having Arbie – their awkward little bowler-hat wearing mascot - participating in different sports. It would have meant more to understand just how much RBC’s employees felt connected to the games – and I can only imagine that effort would have done a lot for internal engagement as well. Part of the reason RBC won in the category was that so many other institutions were missing in action. I'd love to know why other FIs didn't even show up to the race.

Place: Canada In spite of some inspiring and exciting country experiences, including the Sochi 2014 house, I have to give the place branding medal to Brand Canada. I could list a number of examples from my own highly biased point of view, but I think I’ll let some international journalists do it for me. After all, what’s a better sign of a strong brand than un-prompted endorsements?

Three quotes from the papers over the last 24 hours. And to these journalists, thanks for visiting!

From NBC’s Brian Williams:

Thank you, Canada: For being such good hosts…For your unfailing courtesy…For your (mostly) beautiful weather…For your unique TV commercials -- for companies like Tim Hortons -- which made us laugh and cry…For securing this massive event without choking security, and without publicly displaying a single automatic weapon….For having the best garment design and logo-wear of the games -- you've made wearing your name a cool thing to do….For not honking your horns. I didn't hear one car horn in 15 days -- which also means none of my fellow New Yorkers rented cars while visiting…For sharing Joannie Rochette with us…For reminding some of us we used to be a more civil society…Mostly, for welcoming the world with such ease and making lasting friends with all of us.

From the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan:

…all Olympics are the same. What made this one special were the people. I will leave it to the Canadians to explain why, but the fact is they came out as never before to flout their Canadianosity, or whatever you want to call it. They got behind their athletes and they got together here to have a good time, using the Olympics as an excuse to throw themselves a giant two-week party. They lined up in astonishing numbers outside Hudson’s Bay Company store to buy merchandise, creating a revenue stream no one could ever have imagined. Not for one second during these past two-plus weeks could you forget just exactly where you were. It was CanadaCanadaCanadaCanadaCanadaCanada!, all day and all night, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

You may have heard that Vancouver is a great city, but it’s better than that. On a good weather day - and we had a spectacular five-day run in the middle of the Games - it is stunningly beautiful, and it is an excellent eating, drinking, and shopping city. This is the only Olympics in which I have written stories to the sound of sea planes taking off and landing. I’m going to miss that.

From the LA Times’ Bill Plaschke:

It was after midnight, a week ago, the U.S. had earlier defeated Canada in a preliminary-round Olympic hockey game, the emptying streets wet, the mood soggy. I was returning from our nightly visit to the giant four-pronged Olympic flame with my 15-year-old daughter, Mary Clare, who was wearing an American flag like a cape, and a smile like a necklace. It was one of the first times she wore something that didn't represent her high school or favorite sports team. It was one of the first moments she may have realized the pride in being an American.

And here came the Canadian. He appeared to be in his late 20s. He was wearing a scruffy beard, a pale bandanna, and wild stare. He jumped in front of Mary Clare on a darkened patch of sidewalk and started shouting.

"Eh, eh, eh!" he said. She froze. Her brave and resourceful father also, um, froze. At which point the man stuck out his hand. "High-five, eh?" he said. "Great game, America. You won fair and square. We'll see you in the finals." Before disappearing into the shadows, the man looked back at me with what appeared to be a wink. "I know what you were thinking, but that's not how we do it here," he said. "We're Canadian."

I thought of this incident later when, spying on Mary Clare's Facebook page as all brave and resourceful fathers should do, I came across a line about her Olympic experience that stunned me in its simple honesty.

"I love Canada," she wrote.

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