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Examining the London 2012 Olympic Brand Mark

Ron Leland is a creative director and brand architect focusing on strategy, process and organization. Leland has more than 20 years of experience in communication, brand creation and development with a strong background in corporate design and has been instrumental in building and improving business infrastructures in organizations ranging from start-ups to greater than 1500 employees. Leland serves as the Creative Director of Marketing Communications at PIMCO and is also an Adjunct Professor of Communication Design at Chapman University.

Over the last couple weeks, the world has had the chance to see London’s Olympic logo in its full glory. For clarity, this post is not intended to sell you on or steer you away from the brand mark, rather to give you a new set of glasses in which to view the branding elements as they were originally designed.

I’ve been teaching a summer course in London for the past three years — Branding the 2012 London Games — and have been lucky enough to get the ‘behind the velvet rope’ tour when it comes to rolling out a brand of this scale. Keep in mind, this brand mark has gone through the scrutiny of the IOC, world religious leaders and global heads of state in order to not offend religions or cultures. As well, the brand mark had to be driven and approved by the client.

During a presentation by Luke Gifford of Wolff Olins, we reviewed past Olympic logos along with some of the associated words that made up brand briefs of the past. He also shared with us the criteria the IOC was looking for, including a “shift” in the way the Olympics are presented. In his words, “they have become too predictable and less attractive to the youth of the world.”

Those associations included:

PAST — NOW
Nations — People
2 Weeks — Everyday
Sport — Sport +
Looking — Doing
35+ — 5+ (ages)
TV — Street
Elite — Everyone

The brand mark was designed to convey a sense of energy, and the contrasts within the city of London: historic + modern. When the lines are extended along all the edges of the 2012 lettering, they form a grid system of ‘chards’ that allow an organic pattern of infinite options to wrap the venues, adorn the collateral and adverts, and allow for the environments’ graphics to have their own unique shapes — all of which will tie back into the London 2012 logo.
View slideshare deck to see the 2012 London Olympic brand mark in many different forms.

Originally, the chards were to be used in video and print elements that would leave a visual trail of color following an athlete — reinforcing the sense of energy and encouraging youth to engage in sport. What’s been interesting to watch over the past four years, is the use of the branding guidelines by the new design firms who are charged with their own creative developments per LOCOG. Colors have expanded beyond the original five that were selected by the IOC; the use of the chards now have gradients and 3D patterns — and some have gone a bit overboard with using too many lines + 3D + gradients.

On the up, as I watch the Games and look at how they’ve dressed the venues and designed the way-finding signage, I’m impressed with how the extension of the original brand mark has maintained its integrity. The used of chards, color palette and original brand concepts seem to have been kept in play.

Having spent most of my career on brand creation for products and services, being exposed to the branding of an event — particularly at this scale — has been a massive learning experience. Yet at the same time, just like my corporate B2B clients with their many design compromises and ‘design by consensus’ thinking — this too had some of the same nuances.

One of the biggest aspects that I’ll look on with greater consideration is what it takes, as a city, to consider throwing your name into the hat — to host an Olympic Games. The IOC, much like HOA’s (Home Owner Associations), has a set of rules that one must consider before entering this arena. It’s unbelievably costly and a bit too restrictive to those who should truly benefit from their efforts.

Once a city has been selected, an “Olympic experience” is to be given to visiting guests from the moment they arrive in your city. This means that your airports need to have an Olympic make-over, or at least get cleaned up. No adverts in the airport other than those of paid sponsors. For a city like London with three airports — who pays for that expense?

Then there’s the train ride into the city. If there are any billboards that have adverts, they too must be Olympic sponsors or get white washed. If there’s a derelict building enroute — that too must be cleaned up or wrapped to get rid of any graffiti. Again, at who’s cost?

Then once in the city, the city has to present itself as the Olympic host. During the final 8-weeks that precede the Games, all adverts must be Olympic sponsors or be white washed. This included busses, taxis, the Underground and its trains, the buildings, the billboards, etc. Can you imagine monitoring this?

Here’s to looking forward to Rio.

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