Canadian Tire unveils its big play for the Olympics

Who: Canadian Tire, with Leo Burnett for creative, Touché! for media, and Veritas Communications for PR. Fabrication by North Design Build.

What: A continuation of the retailer’s eight-year-old Olympic-themed platform “We All Play for Canada.”

When & Where: Not surprisingly with a big brand activating against a big event, there are a lot of moving parts here. The media buy includes TV, online video, out-of-home and a variety of social activations ranging from small efforts like a custom clapping hands emoji, to bigger efforts including an interactive Twitter ad and a TikTok execution building off the platform’s popular “chain challenge” (more below).

The component getting the biggest PR push, however, is a series of 10-feet wide by 7-feet high outdoor installations called “Celebration Walls.” Located in six cities across the country, the walls feature Olympians/Paralympians and their sport, accompanied by a kiosk featuring a QR code that when scanned takes Canadians to the “Canadian Tire Celebration Zone” on the Team Canada Olympic app, where they can cheer on athletes.

Why: This campaign is emphasizing the life lessons and values learned through play, as told through the eyes of children.

“It really reflects our values as a company and our commitment to enabling and celebrating the power of play to bring people together,” said Irene Daley, associate vice-president of marketing with Canadian Tire in Toronto.

“From playground to podium we really believe in the power of play, because it teaches us to be better people and better people make for stronger communities, which leads to a better Canada.”

The Covid effect: “This has been the longest Olympics ever,” said Daley. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a campaign for so long in advance and not have it see the light of day.” Principal footage for the campaign was captured in March 2020, and has sat in the can since the Games were postponed. The campaign’s focus on the value of play is fundamentally unchanged, although the approach was tweaked slightly to place greater emphasis on supporting athletes, who will be competing without any cheering from family or friends. And with the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics just seven months away, the marketing team is working on two Olympic campaigns simultaneously, said Daley. “It’s not even back-to-back Olympics—it’s Olympics on top of Olympics,” she said. “I’m double timing on Olympics, but it’s an awesome platform to have the privilege to work on.”

How (TV): Canadian Tire is rotating four video ads throughout TV coverage of the Games, including a hero spot featuring a young deaf pitcher from Burlington, Ont. (see it below). The spot opens on a batter and the catcher giving signs to his pitcher. After striking out the batter to win the game, we see that the young boy is wearing a hearing aid, while his parents congratulate him using sign language. Daley said that the spot was inspired by the story of Luther Taylor, a deaf player who pitched in Major League Baseball for eight seasons in the early 1900s and taught his teammates to use signs that have become the baseball standard more than a century later.

How (Outdoor): The interactive Celebration Walls, meanwhile, are reminiscent of the Red Door that Canadian Tire introduced to facilitate conversations between Olympic athletes and their friends and family during the Rio Games. “It’s almost like a Red Door 2.0,” said Daley, adding that the program takes on extra meaning this year because spectators are not permitted in the stands in Tokyo.

“It’s the pinnacle event in their athletic career, and for the first time they won’t have family or friends or fans to cheer them on,” she said. “We wanted to continue to connect athletes with their family, their fans and the rest of Canada so that they know we’re behind them and cheering them on.”

How (TikTok): The TikTok execution builds on the stitch chain videos that have become so popular on the platform. It features seven of Canadian Tire’s athlete partners appearing to pass an item to each other by stitching the separate videos together. “[TikTok’s]a bit of a different medium for us, but we do believe that given that the Games are so far way and the time zone is different, digital will be a big media channel that people will be interacting with to engage with the Games,” said Daley.

And we quote: “As a long-standing partner of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Teams, we’re excited to see our We All Play for campaign come to life in an even more interactive and engaging way than ever before. Our hope with this campaign is that our athletes feel connected to home while competing in Tokyo.” – Eva Salem, vice-president, brand and digital marketing,

Chris Powell