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Brand Olympics: Who are you wearing?

Posted by: Erin O'Keefe on February 16, 2010

Today's Olympic brands are two clothing companies who compete for Canadian loonies: Roots and HBC (the Hudson's Bay Company). When it comes to performance, which Olympics brand is stronger at inspiring us, through intelligent and imaginative approaches to brand expression and experience?

Roots is positioned as a genuine, rugged, and passionately Canadian sportswear brand. It's as Canadian as going to summer camp, and we've worn the classic t-shirts and sweatpants regardless of fashion trends. When Roots gained celebrity status by dressing Canadian Olympians at the 1998 Nagano games, we were feverishly proud: everyone from Robin Williams to Prince William was wearing the beret! Proud that is, until it used its success to win other contracts, and started providing Olympics gear to other countries. Incredulous that a business might want to make money, we were aghast - where was its loyalty?!

Notwithstanding the brand's ‘indiscretions’, we've been drawn back to Roots because of its consistent alignment with sports—rather than appear to be opportunistic of the games, Roots interest appears to be genuine.
Right to Play, its principal charity, is an international humanitarian organization that trains coaches and community leaders to work with more than 700,000 children to develop basic life skills through sport in the most disadvantaged regions of the world. They have also developed a unique clothing line in time for the Olympics: the International Collection. The line includes garments with dozens of nations represented—a reminder that the Games are not just about our home nation, but about connecting to each other and the world through sport. How very Roots…and how very Canadian.

In 2005, HBC won the contract as official supplier for our Olympic athletes. It didn't quite hit the mark in Beijing, but it's hard to debate the popularity of the 2010 garments: red yarn Olympic mittens emblazoned with a maple leaf on the palm are a hit. A red t-shirt actually makes our national anthem cool (True North, Strong and Free!). And then there are the toques: retro pom-pom, fashioned just as Bob and Doug McKenzie would have wanted. However, many of us are torn about this brand. We're proud that it's the oldest company in Canada - perhaps the oldest company in North America. We love the history and the imagery this evokes of a trading company in the wilderness, and who isn't is a fan of the striped blankets? Bonnie Brooks, the President and CEO, has made great strides in improving the clothing lines and becoming the spokesperson for the brand. In Vancouver, the Bay is hosting an athletes' families lounge for the games, creatively building an experience that provides comfort and familiarity. We've been given so many reasons to like this brand. And yet, has this translated to a better in-store experience?

I'll be interested in the experience created by these two Canadian brands in Vancouver. In the meantime, they're both contenders for Olympics medal consideration:

Intelligent: Roots and HBC both behave in ways that align with their positioning; their behaviours are not inconsistent with their long-term proposition. Roots' commitment to Right to Play gives it a strong standing both during and after the games.

Imaginative: Roots' International Line creatively connects with us because the concept takes us beyond our country allegiances, and even beyond our own developed world of sport. HBC's family lounge is said to be a great environment for athletes and their families –definitely original.

Inspiring: While HBC looks to our past to generate emotional responses, Roots might score higher for setting our sights on the future through Right to Play.

What do you think?

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