Athletics Canada shows the greatness of its athletes as Olympics get underway

Who: Athletics Canada with One Twenty Three West.

What: “Experience Greatness,” new advertising following an update to its brand identity in the spring. Athletics Canada is the governing body for track and field, para-athletics, cross-country and road running in Canada.

When & Where: The advertising campaign debuted on Friday and will run as a PSA on CBC, TSN and Sportsnet during the Olympics, with digital on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Why: After a thorough review of its branding and marketing, Athletics Canada and One Twenty Three West introduced its new brand identity in March (more on the logo below). The next stage of the brand overhaul was introduced on Friday with a new website, the ad, and a line of Athletics Canada branded clothing.

The new branding efforts are timed to coincide with the start of the Olympics, with a handful of high-profile, potential medal contenders competing for Canada. Athletics Canada is hoping to leverage this Olympic interest to generate excitement in athletics, particularly among younger and university-age consumers.

“Track and field hasn’t been on many people’s radar since the last golden age of Athletics in the nineties,” said Athletics Canada’s chief operating officer, Mathieu Gentès, in a release. “But with athletes like Andre De Grasse, Damian Warner, Sage Watson and Alysha Newman making headlines across the globe, we have a chance to build some serious excitement and pride for Athletics Canada.”

How: The ad features three of Canada’s track and field athletes: Sprinter De Grasse, wheelchair racer Tristan Smyth, and pole vaulter Newman (who also the stars in another ad released this week).

The idea was to show average people just how extraordinary the athletes are. “It’s really hard to wrap your head around what exactly they’re doing,” said Mia Thomsett, creative director at One Twenty Three West. “To create the excitement behind what the athletes are doing, we needed to make what they do understandable for people, and put it into terms we all understand.”

And so De Grasse is shown running alongside one of Vancouver’s SkyTrains, while Newman pole-vaults over a stack of four cars—things they can actually do. Smyth’s speed is not quite as literal, but is metaphorically depicted with what is described as a “red hot jet stream” behind him as he races around the track.

“For us to bring what track and field athletes do to the mainstream is really important,” said Thomsett. “And so that’s why we were trying to equate all these things they do like, Andre can run as fast as a train, we needed that to make that relatable.”

The Logo: The new logo was designed following extensive consultation with the athletes themselves. “Athletics Canada represents athletes from a lot of different disciplines, so we needed to create an identity that represents everyone and unifies them into one powerful team,” said Athletics Canada’s chief executive officer David Bedford, at the time.

At first glance, the logo is clearly a maple leaf, but artfully includes other symbolic elements: The lanes of a running track, a podium, a torch and the letter “A” for athletics.

The gear: Creating a brand identify and clothing that people will want to wear was a critical part of the strategy, said Thomsett. “For us that was really what it was: Making a brand that was cool, that could live up to the logos that are on their sponsors—the Nikes and the Adidas and the Pumas. We wanted to create a brand that felt like it wasn’t the sort of governmental logo or branding typical of a lot of these organizations.”

David Brown