Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

Revitalizing Ottawa’s
oldest orchestra

Aging audiences. Decreasing attendance numbers. A bold move to a novel performance space. These three factors combined to create a new era for the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (OSO), compelling the revered local institution to overhaul its brand.

An orchestra for a modern audience

OSO approached us with an existential dilemma: how could it appeal to a wider and more diverse audience without sacrificing its classic sound? Given OSO’s rich history and valuable contribution to the city’s cultural fabric, we took on the challenge without hesitation and with full confidence. In carrying out a strategic rebrand of the institution, our goal was twofold—to make the orchestra’s value proposition appealing to growing audiences with modern tastes; and, by increasing attendance, enable the OSO to attain long-term financial viability and sustainability.

Conventional was not an option

Our research and analysis uncovered a number of stigmas attached to orchestras. OSO’s brand in particular was overshadowed by the stereotypical notion that symphonic concerts are meant for older and affluent audiences. The orchestra needed to distance itself from this view, from both narrative and visual identity points of view, so it could reach untapped groups of patrons. We developed a strategic brand framework rooted in understanding and responding to the shifting misconceptions around elitism, cost and ageism in the classical music space. Equipped with this understanding, OSO was ready to transition from conventional to avant-garde. The launch of Downbeat, a discount ticket program for people under the age of 30, is just one example of a successful initiative that OSO created following recommendations outlined in the framework.

“Thanks to the wonderful team at Stiff for all their work and donated time to create our groovy new visual identity. We’re impressed by the solid tenets of marketing they’ve provided us. We can’t wait to see how Ottawa Symphony Orchestra’s fresh, dynamic and youthful brand will grow.”

Kate Holmes, Former General Manager,
Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

Former General Manager,
Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

A fresh look for a classic sound

OSO’s visual identity lacked the precision and consistency that reinforces credibility and fosters trust with audiences—current and especially prospective. Armed with a strong understanding of the emerging cultural landscape, we knew that the new OSO brand had to be unexpected and arresting, and it needed to bridge the gap between young and old classical music aficionados. We conceptualized a visual brand that represented OSO’s shift away from the rigid structure and aesthetics of traditional orchestras. The three-ring logo is an abstract representation of the brand’s name. The design is inspired by elements at the core of OSO’s identity:  

Sound: the vibrations that move from the orchestra to the audience.

Place: the non-traditional performance space thatOSO calls home.

People: the orchestra’s diverse community of musicians, students, audiences and supporters.

We also created two colour palettes for the brand. Blue, the primary hue, is a nod to one of the colours in the City of Ottawa flag. The secondary scheme is a multi-coloured gradient that features yellow, orange and blue. The gradient not only adds depth, but also symbolizes the drama of the performance space. We also opted for black and white photography to create a contrast between the flashier elements of the brand. We then developed a set of brand guidelines to ensure the brand is applied consistently and appreciated fully across all communications channels and media.

A virtual rollout

Pandemic-induced uncertainty loomed over the city this summer. So we set out to develop an unconventional rollout strategy to launch the new brand. Since in-person events were out of the question, OSO debuted its new look at a virtual fundraiser event in August 2020. We designed a new landing page for the website to promote the event, as well as a PDF presentation, which detailed the new branding and social media assets.

Viva l’orchestra

We had been there before—working within the restrictions of a nascent technology, thrown into the deep end of virtual events thanks to COVID.
Although a second wave of COVID-19 has put a damper on OSO’s first season with its new brand, a shift to the virtual space has amplified the orchestra’s popularity beyond Ottawa. Its bolder identity is giving it an edge over its competitors—regionally, nationally and internationally. Even better, not only does the new brand represent the OSO in its current state, but it is also adaptable enough to grow alongside the organization, continuing to reflect the distinctive sound, place and people of this Ottawa institution for decades to come.

Read the full case study

To see our full design portfolio,
click here.