The Fashion Trail | Vancouver’s Digital Olympics

Vancouver Olympics Red Mittens | Source: Hudson's Bay Company

Vancouver Olympics Red Mittens | Source: Hudson's Bay Company

VANCOUVER, Canada — Every two years that global extravaganza called the Olympic Games alternates between summer and winter sports. Next in line is Vancouver which will host the XXI Olympic Winter Games between 12-28 February 2010, costing the city in excess of $1.5 billion.

Over the weekend, Tyler Brûlé reckoned in the Financial Times that Canada is wasting an opportunity to re-brand itself to the world, using the Olympics as a communications platform like Sydney and Barcelona successfully did. Would-be Canadian Prime Minister Michael Ignatieff, on the other hand, seemed to have read Mr. Brûlé’s mind, writing in a New York Times Magazine article the day before that Canada is not looking to put its own brand at the centre of these Olympics as that would be un-Canadian.

But like it or not, this is the first truly social media Olympics. A digital footprint of these games will be left for eternity on countless Facebook pages and Twitter streams. It is the first time that athletes, hailing from more than 80 countries, will be tweeting their experiences from the sidelines while spectators share their experiences in real-time, uploading photos and videos, documenting every Olympic second for their friends and family back at home.

Possibly the biggest marketing tool Vancouver has for these Olympics, therefore, is to simply show its guests — the thousands of athletes and tourists who will descend on the city — a great time. Real people will be the biggest ambassadors and communicators for this Olympic games, not reporters or television anchors.

And, despite the presence of rules for on how social media can be used, communication will be tough to control. Tweets will spread like wildfire. Doping scandals will be reported instantaneously. News will get out fast, whether the city or the Olympics organisers want it to. Indeed, CNN reported this weekend that athletes are already confused about what they can and cannot say on Twitter and Facebook.

Vancouver Granville Street | Source: John Bollwitt's Flickr Photostream

Vancouver Granville Street | Source: John Bollwitt's Flickr Photostream

So what will Vancouver have in store for its guests? On a visit there at the end of last year I noticed that Granville Street, the historically seedy street previously flush with dodgy movie theatres, pinball arcades, and sex shops had been transformed into a neon-lit boulevard, the newly christened entertainment district where people will gather to celebrate each night of the 16 day event.

In David Lam Park, international consumer and electronics brands such as Coke, Samsung, Acer and Panasonic will exploit social media to create buzz about their Olympics sponsorships with high-profile, experiential pavilions, bolstered with digital technology. At the Coca-Cola Pavilion, for example, visitors will have the chance to pose with the Olympic Torch and share it immediately on their Facebook pages., a bespoke website designed to spread the Coca-Cola Olympics experience using social media tools

Of course, fashion brands have also been making the most of the Olympics branding opportunity. After losing their bid to be the official clothing outfitter for the games, clever Vancouver-based yoga-wear brand Lululemon produced their own collection entitled “Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 & 2011 Edition,” drawing ire from Olympics organisers and attracting much PR buzz for their bold move against one of the most highly-protected brands in the world.

For their part, the official clothing sponsor, the historic Hudson’s Bay Company, isn’t doing so badly either. In a sign that value is still the most powerful word in today’s fashion economy, the unsurpassed fashion it-item of these Olympics is a pair of red wool HBC mittens, offered at the reasonable price of $10. More than two million pairs were expected to be sold by the close of the games, and shortages and sell-outs have been widely reported in the months leading up. They are the hottest ticket in town, and accessible to almost everyone.

You can be sure they will make many appearances on all those Facebook pages.

Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of the Business of Fashion.

A video from CTV News describes the HBC Olympics mittens frenzy

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  1. As a Vancouverite who had to endure the growing pains leading up to the Vancouver Olympics, I was pleased to read your article about this huge event that is days away from descending on our city.

    The Government of Canada likely overlooked the branding aspect of our country. However, I and many Canadians would agree with Mr. Ignatieff’s article. Canadians, both inside and outside our homes, have always been encouraged to have a quiet confidence. We hope (that’s the Canadian way) everyone will have a wonderful time in Vancouver and our hospitality will encourage you to visit us again.

    Thank you for your wonderful and intelligently edited site. I visit it daily to get my “fix” of fashion articles.

    J. L. from Vancouver, BC, Canada
  2. Some very good points made Imran, as usual, and we Vancouverites are doing our best to be positive and get excited about the upcoming games. But as they near, I’ve learned of some shocking sponsorship regulations that I feel can truly damage the experience the visitors will have here.

    When living in London I was always shocked that Arsenal’s football jerseys (or shall we call them Team Emirates) had the name of the sponsor much larger than the team name, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that GM Place, our stadium, had been renamed Canada Hockey Place because GM is not a sponsor. I was, however, surprised to find out that because McDonalds is the official food sponsor (yes, that too is pretty depressing) and they don’t have outlets in GM Place, the concession stands in the stadium are not allowed to sell any food similar to McDonalds. That means burgers and fries are replaced by Philly cheese steaks and potato wedges, and even White Spot, one of our burger chains, are not allowed to sell hamburgers.

    In addition, the most incredible part of this sponsorship dictatorship is that Visa, one of the sponsors, has managed to wangle a deal stating that no one can pay for any official Olympic merchandise in any of the Olympic venues with anything but cash or Visa. No debit card, no Mastercard, and no American Express. Even Hudson’s Bay Company, the Canadian department store chain, who usually accepts all credit cards, will only allow customers to pay for Olympic merchandise with Visa or cash, but you can buy the rest of merchandise with any credit card. This is not very well advertised, which means that tourists visiting Vancouver will have a very unpleasant surprise if they turn up to venues with a debit card.

    Maybe I’m ignorant to sporting event sponsorship regulations, but I feel that banning debit cards, which are the modern equivalent of cash, is going to cause some problems over the next few weeks.

    On that very long note, I do sincerely pray that the games go well, and I fully intend on taking part in the festivities, carrying cash, of course.

  3. This is always seems to be a debate…I mean is it truly Canadian to be quiet and modest? To a certain extent I agree that it seems to be in our nature – however, we really need to start embracing and announcing the talent we have in this country. Being humble and modest is fine…but I feel it is also what holds our talent back from really “making it” – fashion included. There is a difference between humble and just plain passive. Is it too much for us to be “cocky” for once? Let’s try it out and celebrate our talent…push them to the next level. I am excited for the games and hope that all the social media outlets can help create a whole new experience for the Olympics. For interest sake, although I know that Lulu lost the opportunity…there are some other Canadian apparel brands that made it…including Trimark Sportswear’s Elevate line (branded fleece, etc) and Sunice I believe had a co-branded partnership.

    Toronto, Canada

    Keshia Khan from Las Vegas, NV, United States