London 2012 was more than just a chance for official and un-official sponsors to compete for profile and recognition when it comes to branding. As various pundits argue over the ‘value’ of The Games versus the cost, one thing is for certain… brand Britain and ‘British branding’ were undoubted winners.
The first hint of how the XXX Games were going to be a boost for Britain came with the spectacular Opening Ceremony staged by Danny Boyle. Not only was it a social and historic lesson on British history, but it was an opening opportunity to showcase British entertainment branding. First we had Brand Windsor (the Queen) mingling with Brand Bond (James Bond), almost assuring that the next 007 flick staring Daniel Craig (called Skyfall) is to be a global hit. Then we were treated to a spectacle of music, dance and stagecraft that highlights the cultural power and organizational ability for British theatre and staging, all accompanied to a very British soundtrack (downloads of the Isles of Wonder soundtrack went into the top 10 on iTunes within hours of the ceremony ending!). There were references to Great British authors and branded characters such as Mary Poppins and Harry Potter as well as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and 101 Dalmatians. Craft and design was heralded by Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic flame cauldron, and then the parade of athletes being perhaps the most funky entrance march accompanied by the Underworld-created sound mix! In this parade, we saw Next’s designs for Team GB taking centre-stage (Next designed the athletes attire for both the opening and closing ceremonies) as Great Britain’s team entered to David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. Wow! Thus a happy and glorious mix of icons that truly represent ‘brand Britain’ in craft and creativity and a fitting pageant of Britishness was put in the shop window.
The next bit of British branding was the branding of the team – Team GB. Not only did this overcome the potential confusion with the Ukraine if it had been Team UK (UKR – being Team Ukraine), but also it avoided the difficulty of whether or not England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland should each field their own team (similar to why Puerto Rico and Hong Kong compete even though they are really part of larger nations!). And of course, Team GB helps to clarify that the team is not merely English and that there is something distinctly ‘British’ which unifies Team GB beyond just geography. Team GB shirts, paraphernalia and merchandising courtesy of the official sponsor, Adidas sported a distinct logo (a Lion) with a red, white and blue motif. A clever bit of brand marketing that helps to unify sport in the UK and provide much needed funding which can be distributed as a support for key athletics groups and future competition.
In athletics, Team GB’s athletes were brands themselves – as the British ‘names’ of Hoy, Ainslie, Pendleton, Addlington, Daley, Smith, Wiggins, Trott, Farah, Rutherford, Ennis, Adams, Kenny, Brownlee, McKeever and Joshua amongst a total of 65 medal winners became officially branded anknown as ‘Olympic medalists’. Their future prospects as individual ‘brands’ being crowned over the 17 days of the Olympics. None recognized the power of their own brand more than Mo Farah and his ‘Mo-bot’ signature pose (which it must be said is only second to Jamaica’s Usain Bolt ‘lightening’ pose in terms of familiarity and popularity!). Team GB and the world’s athletes are now on their way to the lucrative future earnings associated with being Olympians! As the stage was set, and athletes competed, British industry brands were being showcased to spectators and visitors to the venues of the Olympic Park.
The Olympic Park was also a major feature of British engineering – with it being completed on time and on budget by the EDAW consortium. Signature pieces of structure such as Zaha Hadid’s unique Aquatic centre, Hopkins Architects Velodrome through to ArcelorMittal’s ‘Orbit’ tower designed by Anish Kapoor created new landmarks for the London skyline. The Olympic park designed with both practical and sustainable environmental credentials in mind (the UK leads the industry in sustainable/eco-friendly design) is a flexible and fully sustainable development that after The Games will be known as the Queen Elizabeth Park. The Park also boasts beauty in the form of wildflower gardens in the colours of The Games, a real tribute to the horticultural and gardening expertise of Britain. It seems the peculiarly British traits of attention to detail, humour, eccentricity and environmental friendliness all came together around the Olympic physical and structural environment. The quirky floor patterns on the Olympic ‘mile’, the reflective mirrors on the River Lea bridge paths, and the various ‘foto points’ of traditional British icons (e.g. phone booths and ‘frames’) were scattered across the landscape. For B2B brand Britain – there was no better way to show off credentials and association with large-scale design and development planning, logistics and implementation. The only real weak point was the private sector failure of G4S security that then became The Games greatest opportunity to show the best of the British Military in stepping into the breach with dedication, professionalism and courtesy. Besides, didn’t we ALL feel safer that the military were in charge of security and not ‘rent-a-cop’?
During the 17 days of coverage, London and Great Britain was the backdrop for extraordinary sporting events that amounted to one 17-day long advertisement for Visit Britain! Tourism numbers and enquiries will undoubtedly soar on the back of what has now been hailed as ‘the most successful summer Olympic games ever’! And, what was previously derided by many as the manifestation of ‘poor branding’ – the London 2012 ‘logo’, was now seen as just one part of an amazing visual identity system that was both modern and dynamic, perfectly presenting The Games and unifying them as distinctly ‘London 2012’.
*(Author’s note – FutureBrand as part of McCann Worldgroup is THE responsible branding and design agency for the ‘look and feel’ of The Games and all visual applications).
From ticket sales through to merchandising, London 2012 raised the bar and created a unique and appropriate brand that allowed the Olympic Brand of the IOC to be distinct from that of Team GB and from that of The United Kingdom.
The branding of the 70,000 volunteers named, ‘The Games Makers’ was also a stroke of genius. By confounding perceptions of the British as being cold, unfriendly and reserved – the Games Makers were hailed as the heroes of The Games. Carefully recruited to be ‘on brand’, trained in advance on their role and harnessing the power of positivity (by McDonalds!), the Games Makers in their distinctive uniforms became the icons of how service and dedication are just as important as any attribute in delivering a ‘happy customer’. Their ability to represent a modern, cross-cultural and diverse nation complimented Team GB and projected a very different sort of nation than perhaps the world had in mind before The Games began. In essence, they were the service ambassadors of London 2012, and they did the nation proud. Young and old, many were British and many were foreign which accurately provides an insight into Britain truly being an international melting pot of different cultures, diversity and immigration. Britain displayed itself as a true melting pot – comfortable on the world stage – with a new image of multi-culturalism, internationalism and a dynamic and commercial nation that welcomes industry and personal initiatives. Modern Britain is a world apart from that of Britain in 1948 when the XIV Olympics were last held in London.
This led to perhaps the biggest brand story of the entire Games – that of the re-appropriation of the Union Jack as a branding symbol of unity and pride. The re-appropriation of the flag from the likes of far-right politics (the BNP), from Ginger Spice’s dress and from the roofs of Minis meant that this icon entered the national consciousness again with something more meaningful and popular. A form of branding patriotism that seamlessly was fun, commercial, stylish and patriotic! The flag of Union or ‘Union Jack’ not only formed the centerpiece of the Closing Ceremonies as interpreted by Damien Hirst, but it was in evidence on everything from pins, to umbrellas, to hats to t-shirts at almost every event. Flags and bunting were visible everywhere in London and across the UK as the ‘feel good’ about Britain factor started by the Jubilee translated into ‘feel proud of being British’. For 17 days, London 2012 made ‘brand Britain’ cool again with the Union Jack being more than just a political flag but a design and style icon. Even Andy Murray (a Scot) seemed to embrace the Union Jack and sing God Save the Queen perhaps much to the dismay of Alex Salmond and the independence-minded Scots! On view around London and witnessed in the queues at souvenir shops in the capital – tourists and athletes alike couldn’t get enough of the Union Jack design. One of the most important aspects of a country’s brand is the ability to connect symbolism and iconography with popular appeal and in this aspect, London 2012 certainly delivered. The pay off will be to see how the GREAT in Great Britain advertising is continued and leveraged over the coming years.
The closing ceremonies capped an amazing 17 days of British branding, and in case you missed it the first time around, it reminded a worldwide audience of over 4 billion how ‘great’ Britain is as a nation and that it is an economic powerhouse of branding. Furthermore, it reminded us all that the world’s capital of creativity is London. Again, the use of staging, lighting and music to create what was billed as the ‘ultimate British playlist’ perhaps did more for the music and creative industry than any film or advertisement could have done. The homage to British fashion brands and supermodels (thanks Kate, Naomi and David Gandy!), the use of white Rolls Royce Phantoms to transport the musical talents of Jessie J, Taio Cruz and Tinie Tempah! The Manganese Bronze iconic Black Cabs with the Spice Girls attached to the roofs – a pretty good ad for all things vehicular and British.
As The Games closed, and the credits rolled – at Heathrow airport (the official entry/departure airport for The Games, as promoted by BAA) the departing athletes were treated to a very British send off of their own, with departure terminals decorated as an homage to all things British (Bearskin hats on guards, phone boxes, Tower of London scanners and purple deer)! Including a remembrance tree for athletes to leave comments on The Games. Many of the messages praised London, the volunteers and even the food! Yes, the food in the Olympic Village! Now THAT is a British accomplishment! Nothing was left to chance – from start to finish, these Games were well branded, and offered a lesson in branding for a city, a nation, for teams, for individual athletes and for commercial business (either as official or unofficial sponsors/partners/and providers). That lesson is – when you combine a strategy and message (Inspire a Generation) with a compelling visual ‘look and feel’, experience and service mentality that is customer focused, you can’t help but win gold! So much so, that the Paralympic Games are now expected to exceed all expectations as well, as The Games’ ‘halo’ effect of brand extension and management draws crowds to cheer a second group of athletes from around the world!
Yes, the Olympic Games of London 2012 deployed all of the elements of strong branding and in turn helped turn brand Great Britain into a more positive force and an object of desire and pride, both within the UK and around the world!