The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

When FINA, the international body that governs aquatics, changed the name of the synchronized swimming discipline to artistic swimming, it sent more than a wave across the sport in Canada. It unleashed a tsunami of activity that has resulted in a new name, a new brand, and a unified vision for the organization now known as Canada Artistic Swimming.

The decision at the FINA Congress, in July 2017, provided the catalyst to take an in-depth look at where the sport was going, both internationally and nationally. “At the staff and the board levels, we knew we had an opportunity to make some significant changes to remain relevant and to take advantage of what was happening globally in the sport world,” said Jackie Buckingham, CEO of Canada Artistic Swimming. “With the introduction of mixed duets as a competitive event right up to the world championship level, and discussion starting around the inclusion of men in the Olympic Games, we knew we needed a strong campaign and platform to recruit and retain boys and men in the sport. And in Canada, we also saw the opportunity, through a complete re-brand, to draw new registrants from a much more diverse population than ever before.”

Charting a New Course

Realizing that this shift represented more than a simple change in the name for the organization formerly known as Synchro Canada, Buckingham began investigating the steps that were needed. First came the name change, with accompanying legal procedures. Selecting a new name involved a Nuans search to avoid similarities to any existing corporate names and trademarks (conducted by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada). The originally proposed “Artistic Swimming Canada”, was deemed to be too close to Swimming Canada and potentially confusing. Repositioning the words slightly, Canada Artistic Swimming, and in French, Natation Artistique Canada, passed the Nuans test.

Under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, a name change is considered a fundamental change in an organization’s bylaws, requiring approval of two-thirds of the membership. A special meeting was called with the singular purpose of changing the name. Canada Artistic Swimming was unanimously approved on May 15, 2018.

Creating a New Brand

Concurrent with the work on the new name, the rebrand project was initiated. This is a daunting task for any organization, but for a small National Sport Organization, with limited staff and financial resources, it was a huge undertaking. A grant from the Canadian Olympic Committee’s National Sport Federation Enhancement Fund allowed Synchro Canada to engage the services of both a branding firm, Torque Strategies, and a graphic design firm, Will Creative, who partnered to create the new brand. Their work commenced in the latter part of January 2018. Their task? Design the brand elements for Synchro Canada’s new image including new logos for the NSO and its Member provinces, and companion branding for its new entry-level aquatic literacy program – AquaGO!

Torque Strategies kick-started the process by bringing together a small group of staff members, board members and a technical sport resource for a discovery session. They asked the group probing questions to get to the heart of what the sport was all about. They also held a series of focus groups with provincial representatives, athletes, coaches and officials. As people used various words to describe the sport, Torque captured the essence, and tracked the commonalities.

At the end of the process, five key words emerged. They became the Brand Attributes:

Brand Attributes: Powerful, Creative, Collaborative, Dynamic, Inclusive

These attributes, along with the Vision and Promise, became the three outcomes supporting the new Brand Essence:

Vision: To be a world leading nation in artistic swimming

Promise: To move and Inspire through our performances and always strive to be Champions

Brand Essence: Forging unity through diversity

With this fundamental language in place, the team at Will Creative was tasked to develop the graphic material to visually represent the brand.

Before the visual work began, the Synchro Canada board approved the brand essence. Wanting to avoid the perils of “design by committee”, Buckingham and Director of Communications and Events, Stéphane Côté, worked directly with the Will Creative team, using the Marketing and Sponsorship Committee, staff and the Board as touchpoints at critical times.

Bringing the Logo to Life

In developing a distinct, Canadian identity for Canada Artistic Swimming, the Will Creative team designed a logo that proudly includes the classic Canadian maple leaf in red, with one third of the leaf representing the watery splash effect that is now part of the sport’s visual language. The wordmark also uses the water in motion theme, incorporated as a powerful splash through the word “Artistic”. Along with the graphic elements came a whole new vocabulary and tone of voice. It’s more powerful, inclusive and respects the diversity of Canada. Examples can be found on the brand page on the Canada Artistic Swimming website.

Canada is a welcoming nation. An inclusive nation…As individuals, we represent the diversity of many nations. As a country, we have embraced the differences between one another…We will unite our teams by embracing what makes each person different, unique and special. Together we will transform what is expected, what is possible, and what people around the world think about artistic swimming.

We are more than the sum of our parts. Together, we are better…Together, we are Canada.

Making it Official

After receiving word from Corporations Canada that the name change was final, official notification was sent in early August to members and clubs, with a public media release on August 9, 2018. Once the visual identity was finalized, another notification was sent to members and clubs just prior to the official public launch of the brand on August 21st. After a year of work, the new name, new brand and renewed commitment to a collective vision for the organization was in place.

Sharing Lessons Learned

Reflecting on the tremendous amount of work to re-engineer a sport organization, Buckingham offers three suggestions to anyone else going down this road:

  1. Talk to others who have been in the process. “We had advice from other sports who had rebranded but couldn’t find anyone in sport who had gone through a name change and major rebrand at the same time. So we forged some new territory on our own.”
  2. Work with the right people. “Make sure your legal firm understands the Canadian sport system and its uniqueness. That will make the pathway easier. And carry that through to finding a design/branding firm or firms who will work with you to find the right image for your sport.”
  3. Change is difficult. “We respect those who worked so tirelessly on behalf of synchronized swimming, to see it recognized as a sport, to get it into the Olympic Games, for whom the term had historical and sentimental meaning. But with such a significant change happening at the international level, we want Canada to continue to be seen as a progressive leader, so must accept the current realities of promoting the sport both within Canada and worldwide.”
What’s Next?

There is still more work to come. Incorporating the new brand into every element of an organization is no small task. The website is currently being redesigned, athlete clothing to allow the Canadian teams to wear the new look with pride is in design, the materials for Canada Artistic Swimming’s Annual Meeting and Convention in September are also integrating the visual identity, and AquaGo! / ALLEZ à L’eau! is in the final design phase as well.

Buckingham is pleased that provincial/territorial sport organizations are changing their names as well. “We are assisting the provinces and territory through their own processes. Some will soon be ready to make the change as well, and we’re thrilled to provide a uniform brand adapted to each individual provincial name as part of our brand standards.”

Buckingham concludes, “It was a major under-taking, but to see the excitement that the brand announcement has generated in the community, and to know we’ve redefined the identity and future path for an organization moving forward together is truly gratifying.”

An overview of the new Canada Artistic Swimming’s new branding is available here.


This SIRCuit article was originally published October 10, 2018.


About the Author(s)

Barb MacDonald is Canada Artistic Swimming’s Communications Consultant, providing support in strategic media relations and communications. She has worked with several National Sport Organizations in Canada and is respected world-wide for managing media operations at large sporting events.