When we look at the passionate and self-driven athletes participating in the Olympics, it's easy to forget – be it just for a moment – about the human that lives behind that mask.
In a powerful campaign for the 2021 International Olympics Committee, named "Stronger Together", directors Kevin Foley and Mark Zibert partnered with agency Hulse & Durrell to illustrate the human strength, vulnerabilities and authenticity of some fan-favourite athletes. The result is a series of spots featuring some 20 athletes, including Usain Bolt, Tony Hawk, Naomi Osaka and more.
Today we are getting Behind the Idea following a chat with Director Kevin Foley, to understand more about this beautiful and inspiring campaign.
What was the brief?
Originally, the campaign was meant for the 2020 Olympics so we started the pitch process in early 2019. Back then, the focus was a bit two-dimensional, really just celebrating athletic achievement to get the world excited for the games. Of course that all changed during the production process in 2020. Post pandemic, we had to recalibrate and we locked in on the ideas of togetherness and the human stories of the athletes.
How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?
The agency, Hulse & Durrell, brought Mark Zibert and I in during the pitching process with the IOC. We created a mood film for them that really spoke to what we wanted to put forward. Typically the IOC goes for a very polished look and we thought we could bring a real human element to the campaign that would be more relatable to anyone watching, athlete or not. The mood film was a real labor of love for Mark and I and brought out real emotion from the IOC when they saw it. I think that’s what sealed the deal.
Tell us more about the concept. How did it come to life, and why was it the right choice?
The final concept, the campaign that ultimately came out, was born out of a need to change gears after the postponement of the 2020 games. We had the whole campaign, originally titled “Make History,” in the can and then of course the pandemic hit.
We had to pivot the concept from an athletics based one to a human one. In the hero film, when you hear the words “we kept moving”, early in Act 1 - although this scene is framed through an athletes’ lens, it's overly human and relatable. The campaign also needed to leave people feeling inspired and still excited about the games. Luckily, we were able to go back to over 13 days of footage to finesse the campaign to fit the tone of the world post March of 2020. We added a 3 day shoot in early May for our pick up scenes, added the athlete voices for their films and all together, it brought out a real sense of unity in the spots.
What was the production process like? What was the biggest challenge?
We filmed the campaign across six countries and four continents, we went to Cape Town (South Africa), Lisbon (Portugal), Los Angeles (USA), Kingston (Jamaica), Melbourne (Australia), and Toronto (Canada). Our production team at Scouts Honour was world class, making sure that we never lost focus and helping us through two months of intense prep. The challenge really came when we had to re-work the whole campaign after it was completed.
What is one funny or notable thing that happened during the production of the campaign?
Our scene with Usain Bolt where over 200 kids join him on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica was easily one of the coolest experiences of my professional life. We had about 40 minutes with Usain and we were shooting two cameras out of the back of a pickup. When word got out that Bolt was running in the neighbourhood, all of Jamaica showed up. What played out was equal parts chaos and magic. Still to this day, when I watch the footage back, it puts a huge smile on my face.
What’s the main message of the campaign and why does it matter?
Mark and I focused on showing the athletes as they really are, how they train, even when they are alone in isolation. Human first. By playing with the tone and mood we were able to capture the universality of the Olympics and, hopefully, appeal to all audiences. The Olympics unite the world, they are for everyone. Having gone through a global pandemic it’s important to showcase that unity now more than ever.
What is one unique aspect of the campaign?
The fact that Mark and I had to be so adaptable to the circumstances of the pandemic and completely change the campaign once it was already done was definitely new for us. We used as much footage as we could from what we’d already shot and changed the tone and meaning behind the campaign with the voice over and in the edit.
How long did it take from inception to delivery?
We started the pitch process in early 2019. Production kicked off in October of 2019 and the campaign aired in June, 2021.
What do you hope it achieves for the brand?
I hope that when people watch the campaign they are inspired and that they feel it’s something they haven’t seen from the IOC before. I hope young people are excited to watch this year as well after watching Naomi Osaka, Andre DeGrasse, Nyjah Houston and all of the young athletes in these spots.
Credit list for the campaign?
Production House: Scouts Honour
Directors: Kevin Foley & Mark Zibert
Producers/EP’s: Simon Dragland & Rita Popielak
Cinematographers: Eric Kaskens & Mark Zibert
Creative Research: Tricia Zaremba
Photographer: Janick Laurent
Editorial: Married to Giants
Executive Producer: Julie Axell
Editor: Graham Chisholm & Raj Ramnauth
Assistant Editor: Matthieu Belanger & Nick Yumul
Agency: Hulse & Durrell
EP: Greg Durrell
EP: Ben Hulse
Producer: Kelly Parlane
Art Director: James Moslander
Copy Writer: Adam Tetreault
Online/SFX: The Vanity
Lead VFX Artist: Sean Cochrane
VFX Artists: Mike Medeiros, Andrew Farlow
EP: Stephanie Pennington
Producer: Kayla Baxter
Audio House: Six Degrees Music & Sound
Voice/Music Director: Dan McManus
Original Score: Alec Harrison
Additional Orchestration: Chris McGuire
Re-recording Mixer: John Iaquinta
Colour: Alter Ego Post
Colourist - Wade Odlum
Service Production Companies: Lisbon, Portugal - AG Films
Cape Town, South Africa - Moonlighting
Los Angeles - The Media Mob
Kingston, Jamaica - Walters Productions Jamaica
Australia - FINCH