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Brand Olympics: Canada's New Patriotism is resoundingly brand agnostic

Posted by: Erin O'Keefe on February 19, 2010

“I didn’t know Canadians were this patriotic – I thought Americans were more. Not even close" - Shani Davis, US Gold Medalist, 1000M Long-track Speed Skating

In Canada, we've long had a habit of defining ourselves by what we are not. We're not American. We appreciate our British roots, but we're not just a Commonwealth nation. We don't carry guns. Most of the time, we're not boastful.

But something interesting is happening at the Vancouver Olympics, and across the country: Canadians are wearing their hearts on their shirts - any shirts. Made by any old company that will slap a maple leaf or corny Canadian phrase onto a piece of fabric. We're a little alarmed by our new-found patriotism. All of a sudden, we seem to have a clearer feeling about who we are.

We're proud enough to shout it, to strike up our National Anthem among strangers, to start a game of shinny in the streets of Vancouver (that's pick-up hockey for the rest of you). Journalists are calling it the New Patriotism: in the Vancouver Sun, Shelly Fralic says it will "imbue in us a reinvigorated sense of pride that has little time for detachment and will thrive and survive beyond the obligatory July 1 fireworks and periodic hockey fever flag-waving".

I left Toronto early this morning for Vancouver, happily sporting my HBC Canada sweater, red mittens in tow. I wasn't the only one at the gate covered in Olympics gear. A couple had on Nike Hockey jerseys, and someone had the Lululemon Hockey Dude shirt. After commenting on Roots vs. HBC as suppliers of Olympics clothing, I had a number of requests for comment on these and other competitive sportswear companies. What I'm struck with is the fact that it doesn't matter to fans whose shirt they're wearing: it's really just about Canada.

Nike is most prominent on Hockey jerseys, but they also support our athletes with funding. I'd like to know more about exactly what they do - but let's face it: we're buying the jerseys regardless of how the brand contributes to our athletes' success. Will sponsorship translate into long-term loyalty for the brand? What does Nike, or Roots, or HBC stand to gain from their clothing lines once the games are over - if we're willing to don anything that screams Canuck?

Lululemon has taken a more grassroots approach to Olympics clothing. Not an official supplier of any kind, Lululemon has attracted some criticism, considering they are a Vancouver-based brand that is proud of its Canadian heritage and resoundingly west coast. Their Hockey Dude shirts and helmet toque are two pieces of Canadian garb that make them the underdog of games gear. Some might argue that it's intelligent for Lululemon to avoid overt praise or support of the Olympics, considering its yoga-inspired brand is more about being present and practising healthy behaviours than it is to be gunning for gold. Still, the clothing line is imaginative in its ability to capture the ruddy appeal of hockey guys in a way that's uniquely Lululemon. I'm often inspired by Lululemon's brand - sustainable actions, powerful words that motivate us to be our best selves everyday. Perhaps most true to their brand, they haven't wavered in supporting communities by inspiring their employees to take on personal efforts to create 'community legacies'. Now that's inspiring.

But back to the value of these brands in Canada: is the return on brand investment worthwhile if we're willing to wear any brand that dresses us in our patriotism? And if we're spending our money on their garb and building their brand presence in our country, what is it we expect of them in return?




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