Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

How Michael J. Fox and Céline Dion Showcased Canadian Olympians in an All New Way

Advertising Agency
Toronto, Canada
The Hive’s Jean George, Mike Albrecht and Ryan Speziale explore what it took to bring this Summer Olympic Games campaign to life, and why it was essential to look beyond the superhuman reputations of the athletes, writes LBB’s Jordan Won Neufeldt
When you think of the way Olympic athletes are portrayed in the media, it’s almost always the same story. Glossy work highlighting triumph, near superhuman willpower, burning competitive spirit, and, of course, exceptional talent to compete at the highest level around the globe. 

This is very fun. Watching montages of people succeeding at the highest level is a satisfying thing… but it’s not exactly relatable, especially in a time like this for most Canadians. 

Think about it. The past few years have been a lot. The pandemic, political turmoil, climate change-induced conditions… As creative agency, The Hive, quickly realised through its research that Canadians needed a hopeful message, now more than ever. And that’s exactly what it produced with its latest campaign for The Canadian Olympic Committee and CBC/Radio-Canada. 

Specifically geared around the fact that Canadians are not always confident in their ability to reach their goals – especially given the state of the world – 'Brave is Unbeatable’ combined archival footage with live shot material to portray these athletes in an all new way. By focusing centrally on their bravery, and the ways in which they’ve overcome struggles with the likes of anxiety, doubt and pressure, the work is inspiring yet human. And, naturally, the narration by Michael J. Fox and Céline Dion really takes the work to the next level. 

To learn more about how this all came to life, LBB’s Jordan Won Neufeldt sat down with The Hive’s strategy director Jean George, and creative directors Mike Albrecht and Ryan Speziale for a chat. 

LBB> Creating a campaign ahead of the Summer Olympics is no small task. What immediate ideas came to mind? 

Jean> The brief was to excite and engage Canadians around Team Canada ahead of and during the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. We knew we had to approach this Olympic platform differently from years past. So much has happened within Canada in recent years, so to rely on traditional notions and symbols of Canadian pride to spark excitement for these games would’ve missed the mark. 

Right off the bat, we knew we needed to get a better understanding of where Canadian pride was sitting before coming up with any ideas.

LBB> The decision to emphasise bravery and what we don’t usually get to see is a strong creative choice. How did you come to the decision to use this tone, and what made it the right approach for the job? 

Jean> Typically, the story of Olympians is one-sided. Their successes are heavily publicised, and they seem to possess superhuman powers that the rest of us marvel at. 

However, while their athletic prowess and training is something to respect, we rarely hear of the human stories of obstacles and sacrifices. With an emphasis on obstacles, we wanted to ensure our campaign did not take a gritty or dark tone, which is why bravery provided a brilliant creative foil. Bravery would allow us to maintain an optimistic perspective and create the following conditions for the work.

First off, it would forge connections by making our athletes more personable and relatable. Secondly, using bravery would allow our platform to create a lasting impact - viewers would retain and relate to the passion, lessons, and sacrifice of our athletes' stories. And, most importantly, it would illustrate a path forward. If Canadians are feeling disempowered (as based on our research), we wanted to provide them inspiration to believe in possibility, help them recommit to their vision, and inspire them to take action. 


LBB> Building on this, tell us a bit more about the research which inspired the decision, and the need to put out a hopeful message. What were the key takeaways?

Jean> We know Canada has been through a lot in the past few years, so we conducted extensive research to get a pulse check on how people were feeling about life in Canada, and where, if at all, the Olympics fit into their view of modern life. 

What the team found was truly enlightening: Canadians are very driven by achievement, but within our nation’s current circumstances, they’re not confident they can reach their goals. While this strategic discovery was somewhat sobering, the notion of obstacles impeding success provided a very clear and powerful point of connection between Canadians and Team Canada Olympic athletes.

LBB> From there, what was the writing process like? How did you select which athlete’s stories you wanted to tell, and really bring them to life through a powerful script? 

Mike> Paris 2024 is the first-ever Olympic Games with gender parity for the athletes competing. So, we wanted to ensure our campaign reflected the mix of athletes taking centre stage this summer. Since our goal was to forge a bond between Canadians and Team Canada athletes to rally support, we chose struggles like anxiety, doubt, family loss, and the pressure of high expectations that a lot of people can relate to. Finally, by framing the athlete stories as what we don’t see, we were able to take people behind the scenes and showcase the human side of these world-class competitors to create impact. 

LBB> Of course, a script is nothing without the narrators, and Michael J. Fox and Céline Dion are massive names! What made them right for this, and as a whole, what was working with them like? 

Mike> We were talking about who would be our dream narrators in a meeting, and that’s when Céline and Michael came up. Everyone thought they were perfect because they’re not only iconic Canadians, but they’re also both dealing with very public health issues, so having them tell the story would elevate our message of perseverance to a whole new level. 

So, we decided to go for it and reach out to their representatives. To our complete shock and excitement, we heard back within a few days that both Céline and Michael loved the idea and were happy to lend their voices to the work. Our talented French copywriter, Mario Laberge, recorded with Céline, and he was beaming with excitement afterwards. A small group of us had the chance to record with Michael, and it was such a thrill. He even complimented the writing, so I can officially retire happy!

LBB> Let’s talk about the spot itself. What made Hubert Davis the right director for the job? 

Mike> We’ve been fans of Hubert’s work for a long time. He has a unique ability to blend storytelling, sport, and meaningful culture together to craft impactful and beautiful films. His documentary background really stood out to us too. Even though we were creating short films, we wanted them to have a docu feel since the idea was to go behind the scenes with the Team Canada athletes. He understood our intention from our very first call, and captured that feeling perfectly.

LBB> And how did you work with him to source archival footage, and blend it with new, live athlete footage? 

Ryan> We were fortunate to have our broadcast partners, CBC/Radio-Canada, involved during the creative development stage, and were able to leverage its bank of archival event footage. It was important for us to show this broadcast footage to reinforce what we typically see from these athletes. That way, the contrast was more impactful when we introduce the new, original footage that shows what we don’t typically see.

With Hubert Davis’ documentary experience, he was able to help us blend both types of footage in a way that felt holistic and intentional. He had a great approach that involved building a working edit using the archival footage selects, before shooting any original footage. This allowed us to identify what holes we had to fill and what kind of footage we needed to capture. From there, we spent a lot of time in the edit moving things around until it felt right.

LBB> Building on this, what was shooting the athletes like? Do you have any anecdotes from the experience? 

Mike> All of the athletes were so easy to work with. They were all gracious, humble, and they leaned in on set to make the work the best it could be. 

Along with being filmed and photographed for the campaign, we recorded audio of nine featured athletes telling their ‘Brave Is Unbeatable’ story of overcoming adversity. A lot of the athletes told us after the shoot the audio record was by far the most nerve-racking moment for them. You couldn’t tell though; they all nailed it. 

LBB> Both the edit and the music also bring it together beautifully. How did these aspects come to life, and did you have a hand in the post process?

Ryan> Yes, we were very involved in the post process. We spent a few weeks editing with our partners at Nimiopere, along with our director, which was a fantastic collaborative experience. And all the while, we were sharing rough cuts with our audio partners at Grayson Music so they could get a feel for where we were headed. We were mindful of briefing in music early to ensure every piece of the spot worked together and created a cohesive experience. We ended up with a beautifully-crafted edit and fantastic original music that both work together to tell the story.

LBB> The campaign is also supported by OOH, digital, social media, and traditional print executions. What did it take to design these?

Ryan> We worked with two great designers on this platform, Teresa Tam, and Carol Hung. We looked for ways to convey energy, excitement, and tension in static media. After trying several directions, we ended up taking inspiration from abstract visual designs that show emotion through the use of colour gradients – like the stages of a mood ring changing colours. We combined that with the use of the oval shape taken from the COC logo to contain original photography, which acted like a window into these athletes’ worlds.

LBB> As a whole, what challenges came with this project, and how did you overcome them? 

Mike> Coordinating film shoots with six Olympic athletes during an Olympic year was no small feat. However, the production teams mapped everything out, found quick solves, and somehow always had us in the right place at the right time. They killed it on this project. 

Filming a creative platform that is unveiled for the Summer Olympics in the middle of a Canadian winter was also very tricky. Hubert and his team scouted tirelessly to find the perfect locations, and worked some on-set magic to create the summer feeling we needed.

LBB> What lessons have you learned in the making of this campaign? 

Jean> From a strategy perspective, defining and understanding your audience is an important step in developing a creative brief. But there needs to be a thorough understanding of how your target sees the world and those around them. This will allow the creative team to come up with an idea that will truly resonate with your audience.

Secondly, as previously discussed, we felt that Michael J. Fox and Céline Dion would best embody the campaign, and we’re so happy we took the shot of reaching out to their agents as they did say ‘yes’. With a really strong idea and worthy cause, it’s not hard to ‘sell’ someone on contributing to a project. 

LBB> Finally, since launch, how have people responded to this campaign? 

Mike> The response to this campaign has been absolutely fantastic. The work has been covered on the news coast-to-coast in Canada, it’s been featured on major international publications like Reuters, and has even been covered as far away as Australia. We’re all thrilled to see people reacting to this campaign in such a positive way. 

Agency / Creative