Core Strength Is Key, Both In Athletics and Marketing #CZLTO

Strength comes from your core, and the same is true for your brand, according to Derek Kent, chief marketing officer (CMO) for the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), who delivered the opening keynote at ClickZ Live Toronto this morning.

In Kent’s opinion, brand excellence paves the way commercial success, which results in more athletic funding, leading the way for more success at the Olympic podium. For Kent, maintaining that brand excellence was a challenge from the beginning, since he joined the COC in 2011, shortly after the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, right when the COC was most interested in keeping positivity from the games flowing.

 “For most Canadians, [having the Olympics in Vancouver] made the country feel prouder because the athletes delivered great results and they felt that power of the maple leaf. It was OK for Canadians to shout out, ‘Go Team Canada! I’m proud to be Canadian!” Kent said. “Everybody wants to support the games when they’re in your backyard – less so when it’s in somebody else’s backyard. To avoid ‘the dip’ [in sponsorship and interest], we saw a golden opportunity we had to take care of.”


Maintaining the same level of interest came down to three things: new brand art – “the foundational element,” Kent said – as well as iconic campaigns and a digital focus. From Vancouver to London’s 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the marketing shift was evident in the team’s less sterile head shots and photographs of athletes in action.

The marketing for Sochi, last year’s winter Olympics held in Russia, had more of a common theme than in previous years. Since so many Canadians grow up skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and playing hockey, the campaign, We Are Winter, centered on dramatic shots of the athletes in Arctic landscapes.

“Canadians have a special connection with winter; it defines us as a people,” Kent said. “We are winter. We embrace it. It challenges us, but it really defines us as a country.”

Other than #Sochi2014, #WeAreWinter was the Olympic hashtag with the most Twitter traction. The success of the hashtag may have stemmed, in part, from the decision to include the athletes’ handles on ads, creating a closer connection between them and the fans.


When Kent first came on board, COC’s social feeds were handled by an intern who came into the office twice a week, often posting about things that had happened several days ago. There’s now a social media team of almost a dozen.

“You get that real-time feedback so you can tell [how much content is resonating] if it’s shared or amplified, or not,” Kent said. “We’ve got to be fans-first. That’s the key; the way we’re going to do that is to make sure we got serious about social.”

Social – both using the tried-and-true platforms and experimenting with new ones, like Snapchat and Periscope – is particularly important for a brand like COC, which is all about an event that occurs for only 17 days every two years.

“It’s a challenge we embrace. The way we attack that problem is by leveraging micro-moments,” Kent said, referring to things like national holidays and other athletic competitions, such as Toronto’s upcoming Pan Am Games. “When an athlete wins a medal for Team Canada [during the Pan Am Games] that’s a moment, and we’ll produce content to celebrate that moment. We have a whole operation dedicated to leveraging all those moments as they arrive.”

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