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Pan Am Games mascot Pachi the porcupine is shown in Toronto on July 17, 2013.MICHELLE SIU/The Canadian Press

For many athletes, the Pan Am Games are part of their path to the Olympics. Now, the Canadian Olympic Committee wants to help drum up excitement in the lead-up to the event, to be hosted in Toronto in July.

It is the first time the COC has ever done a Pan Am marketing campaign. While the two organizations are affiliated – the Toronto Games will include several qualifying events for next year's summer Olympics – they are separate, and have not co-operated on marketing before. The campaign launching on Wednesday is separate from the advertising around the Pan Am Games, and is intended to highlight the participation of Olympic athletes and to promote ticket sales.

But it is also part of a larger project for the COC, to build its brand and promote its athletes – in order to foster lucrative partnerships with marketers, and encourage current sponsors to extend their commitments.

In 2012, the COC announced $100-million in support for athletes and sporting events between then and 2016. That amount, roughly double its investment from 2008 to 2012, was almost entirely drawn from increasing corporate sponsorship revenues.

In order to keep that momentum going, the COC has been investing more in producing its own advertising. The more recognizable its brand is, and the more Canadians see the athletes as household names, the more inclined marketers are to invest in sponsorships.

"We want our athletes to be well known, and we want people in [Pan Am] seats to cheer them on," said COC chief marketing officer Derek Kent.

Its "We are Winter" ads around the Games in Sochi was the organization's biggest campaign to date and led to massive growth in social media activity for the COC. That, in turn, led to sponsors using the terminology as well, to signal their connection. Research shows brand awareness for the COC has jumped among Canadians in recent years.

"We want partners that are committed to their equity and their property. We've seen the advertising they've done as a commitment to that. When it comes to games time, and the COC has already been talking about those athletes, it takes our campaign to the next level," said Dave Struthers, director of promotion marketing at General Mills Canada, which has been a COC partner since 1998, and in 2012 increased its investment in that partnership. (It moved from the "official supplier" tier to the more prominent, and more expensive, "supporter" status.) The company recently renewed its sponsorship until 2020. "When it comes time for renewal discussions, that makes it easier for us to sell it up the chain internally."

The Pan Am campaign, "Now or Never," tracks athletes' development and training from childhood to the podium race, and features 14 Canadian Olympic team members, including canoe sprint bronze medalist Mark Oldershaw and bronze-winning synchronized divers Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito.

For the campaign, the COC hired director Mark Zibert, who also directed the dramatic "What it Takes" ads for Sport Chek around the Sochi Games.

"Talk about passion, commitment, the type of mettle it takes to pursue this as a path. … As a brand, who wouldn't want to be associated with that?" said Glen Hunt, chief transformation officer at ad agency Cossette, which created the new campaign. "The COC needs to resonate with that authenticity, and send its message out there, and it will attract the right type of brands."

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