Olympians Vicky Sunohara and Denny Morrison participate in the launch of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s new branding during at an event in Toronto on Tuesday January 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Virtue and Victory: COC draws on themes of fair play for new edgy campaign

TORONTO — Drawing on themes of fair play and perseverance, the Canadian Olympic Committee launched its new “Virtue and Victory” campaign Tuesday.

If the Russian doping scandal has cast a pall on next month’s Winter Games in South Korea, the COC’s eight-week campaign speaks of “Canadian values” in an edgy, stylized television spot produced by Sid Lee, the creative agency behind the Toronto Raptors’ popular “We The North” campaign.

“We believe Olympic values are Canadian values, and our athletes prove this time and time again,” said Derek Kent, the COC’s chief marketing officer.

“Our message is: be virtuous, be victorious, be Canadian, be Olympic.”

The moody television ad, which hit the airwaves Tuesday, opens with speedskater Denny Morrison rising up through the ceiling, his skinsuit conjuring images of a superhero’s costume. Freestyle skiing’s Dufour-Lapointe sisters — Justine, Chloe, and Maxime — look angelic in gauzy white gowns. Figure skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford compete in front of a judge’s panel that resembles the “Last Supper,” and Mark McMorris is virtually brought back from the dead.

The final scene shows a small girl, clutching a hockey stick, gazing up the statues of three Canadian women’s hockey legends: Hayley Wickenheiser, Vicky Sunohara and Caroline Ouellette.

A voice asks: “Are Olympians just athletes, or are they something more?”

The spot, with its provocative tone, is intended to get people talking, said Tom Koukodimos, Sid Lee’s executive creative director.

“With this particular campaign, we wanted to illuminate some of this country’s most courageous athletes and tell their stories in a thought-provoking way. We hope this ad campaign starts a conversation about our shared values as Canadians,” he said.

Morrison’s story of perseverance is well-known. The 32-year-old was badly injured in a 2015 motorcycle accident, then suffered a stroke less than a year later.

When Morrison was approached about the campaign, his chances of even making the Pyeongchang team were far from certain.

“But part of me thought this campaign is about taking those risks, and rising strong … to give yourself the opportunity to achieve something great,” Morrison said.

“There’s a fair play component to (the campaign), and virtue is victory, and so, yeah with everything that’s going on, it’s an important time right now for this message, especially from Canada, to be spread into the Olympic world,” Morrison added. ”I hope then maybe other countries will latch onto it, because I think it’s a really good message about being virtuous is fair play, and that it is the stepping stone to victory. You can’t achieve victory without being virtuous in the first place.”

McMorris’s comeback story is equally impressive. Competing with a broken rib, the snowboarder won bronze at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Then in March, he broke 17 bones in a back-country crash, and came back to win gold at a World Cup in Beijing.

“Canadian athletes have a way of stepping up when the chips are against them,” Kent said.

The campaign was almost 18 months in the making.

“We started with the voice of the athlete, we said ‘Hey, when we’re talking about being an Olympian, what does that mean to you?’” Kent said. “The athletes told us that they want to stand for more than just performance at the Games, they want to have a position within Canada that is positive for social change.”

The Pyoengchang Olympics open Feb. 9.

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