London 2012: Wow. Pow. Ciao

The London 2012 Olympics is up and running. The world is deep into the elation, the tears, and the cheers. Every media channel is jam-packed with stories of triumphs along the road.

But hold on a moment.

In 2007 a new London Games logo was presented to the public. It resisted the iconic imagery, opting instead for a geometric configuration that on close inspection revealed itself to be the numerals 2012. The public outcry came from every corner of Britain, where it was criticized as a national embarrassment. Within 24 hours of it being launched, 40,000 complaints were filed by the general public demanding it be scrapped. Some compared it to a deconstructed swastika, while others professed an animated version might trigger epileptic seizures. Iran added fuel to the debate when it contended the logo was racist. As they saw it, the four jagged numerals spelled "Zion," a biblical term for Jerusalem.

At the time, London’s Olympic Committee stood firmly behind a logo that had cost £400,000 and been a year in the making. The chairman, Lord Coe, was adamant that the troubled design was all about "reaching out and engaging young people." Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, weighed in, saying he believed it to be "an early indication of the dynamism, modernity and inclusiveness with which London 2012 will leave its Olympic mark."

And then, without so much as another word, the logo slowly faded away. Sure, traces of it remain on the official homepage and a few other corporate-like places, but it's mostly missing from the popular culture surrounding the games. What adorns everything Olympic in London right now consists of the five colorful rings accompanied by a serif text that reads quite simply "London 2012." But most astounding thing of all is not that the questionable logo has taken a back seat, but that the millions glued to their televisions or digital screens don't seem to have noticed its absence. I call it the "Wow, Pow, Ciao" phenomenon, a result of our media-saturated world.

  • Wow: We see something that offends us, we’re shocked and outraged, and then, all fired up.
  • Pow: We take to email, Twitter, Tumblr, and text to vent our horror and dismay to all and sundry, and then, almost as soon as it began…
  • Ciao: We’re on to something newer, more interesting, and perhaps even more controversial.

Admittedly, the logo was pretty ugly. But, in retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if the awfulness of it was worth the fuss. After all, how many of us can remember the Shanghai 2008 logo or, for that matter, Athens in 2004, or Sydney in 2000 (to say nothing of the hideous Olympic mascots)? I know I can’t. However, those of us of a certain age have no trouble remembering Coca-Cola’s rebranding fiasco that occurred in 1985. When the company reformulated their recipe in response to Pepsi taking over the lead marketing position, there was an enormous public backlash to the New Coke. Despite the fact that all market research showed people considered the new version tastier, the company was bombarded with over 400,000 calls and letters protesting the change. Wall Street declared the exercise a gigantic failure and Coca-Cola quickly reverted back to its classic formula. Now, 27 years later, Coke and Diet Coke hold the top two marketing positions, followed by Pepsi.

A similar fate happened to Kraft when they tampered with Vegemite, a dark brown spread used on toast in Australia. In the process of improving the brand, they changed the name from Vegemite to iSnack. Australians felt part of their national identity under threat, and spontaneously boycotted the renamed product. After just four days of iSnack hitting supermarket shelves Kraft succumbed to consumer pressure, and Vegemite was reintroduced to its adoring public generating record sales.

We’re now all part of an instant-gratification generation. As we happily take to Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook to air our grievances, a curious phenomenon is happening in tandem. Life apparently begins over again within the space of a few seconds—just like a goldfish. The French have a phrase for it. They call it succès de scandale. In the U.S. we call it: "There’s no such thing as bad publicity." Here today, gone tomorrow. In the twentieth century it was a term that was used with a fair amount of cynicism.

Today, the cynicism is all but absent, and no one seems to notice or even care. The wow is coming from the sporting action. People are tweeting about Ye Shiwen, the young teenage swimmer from China whose winning time in the women's 400-meter medley outclassed the men. They're bemoaning Michael Phelps's disappointing performance and celebrating the wins. As for the misbegotten logo, well it's bowed out without so much as an English goodbye.

Read more by Lindstrom: Want To Be More Creative? Get Bored

 

Martin Lindstrom is a 2009 recipient of TIME Magazine's "World's 100 Most Influential People" and author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Doubleday, New York), a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best–seller. His latest book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, was published last September. A frequent advisor to heads of numerous Fortune 100 companies, Lindstrom has also authored 5 best-sellers translated into 30 languages. More at martinlindstrom.com.

[Image: Flickr user Ben Sutherland]

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23 Comments

  • Email

    The real fallout in the UK when the logo first came out was due to the fact that it looks like Lisa Simpson giving head, not just that it was ugly and stupid. And now you can't unsee it. :)

  • Aquila

    Oh look, another reporter posting mindless drivel. Don't we have enough of those already? Do your research before you post something so mindnumbingly ignorant.

    The logo is *everywhere*. On the floors of the courts, on banners, on clothing... Have you actually even *been* to London anywhere in the last, oh, half year? Unless you are blind you can not have missed the logo.

    I do not think it is ugly in terms of shape and design. What people seem to be forgetting is that the
    whole Olympics, from the opening to the themesong (No, not Chariots of
    Fire) to the whole thing itself this year, has the theme 'Urban.' The
    logo very much resembles Graffiti, which I find highly fitting in the whole Urban theme, as well as the city.

    I am having a harder time reconciling with the fact that it is pink.

  • Afgil01

    No mate you've got it wrong. The logo is everywhere, it's even on the app icon on my iPad and iPhone. Incidentally Vegimite wasn't rebranded, Kraft introduced a new cheese variant, called it iSnack after running a competition, hoping it would appeal to the iPod generation, but changed if after it was ridiculed. They renamed it Vegemite Cheesybite, and it's still available as is the original Vegemite.

  • Cillian

    OK, i may be going slightly against the grain here, but i think the London 2012 logo is a brilliant piece of design and as for branding the Olympics, i think they have done an amazing job. I don't remember off hand an Olympics before where they have used the colour scheme so well throughout the venues. The purple and pink of the London Olympics adorn everything and design wise, i would have chuffed to have been behind what they have done.

    Let's remember one thing. The public don't exactly have the best idea of what good and bad design is or should be. YES, everyone is entitled to their own opinion about what they feel good design is but the public has a bad habit of jumping on the band wagon. We became designers to create amazing design and push boundaries, and in my opinion that is what the design team of the London Olympics have done.

  • Designstock

     Wow....I think the author hit this write on the nose as far as people happily taking to social media to air their grievences. All the critical and negative comments directed at the author...Wow! Bottom line the logo is awful. I've been watching the Olympics since they began and I did not take notice to the logo which I am sure it is being used probably in scarcity because of its dislike. I'll probably notice it tonight because I'll be looking for it. I did however notice the archaic font use for London 2012 and even commented to my husband on the first day about what an awful font they used. I would agree the logo history of the Olympics does fall short consistently. Overall give the author a break...I mean the general point of the article was to portray the dislike and lack of use the logo has gotten. Do we really have to nit pik every little detail whether its accurate or not?? Give your opinion on the general topic don't waste peoples time having to read your posts about your scoffs?

  • tallg

    As you say, the general point of the article was to point out the lack of use of the logo. This forms the basis for the entire article. Without that point, there is no article.

    So I think it's perfectly acceptable for people who read the article to write a comment pointing out that the logo is actually being used extensively, and as such the article is fundamentally flawed.

  • Robertclivesmith

    This is a very poor article which is indeed based on a fallacy. Three fallacies actually.First the logo is indeed used widely – every bit as extensively as you expect. That said any half decent brand manager understands you shouldn't overuse a logo. Just look at Apple as an excellent example.Thirdly, in contemporary branding, it is common to have a word-only logotype supporting a logo. In the case of London 2012 this is not, as Martin Lindstrom incorrectly says 'a serif text' it is actually a sans serif which employs a typeface specially designed for the brand and based on the angles within the logo. Both of these elements are used in conjunction with a flexible burst graphic that is also based on the angles within the logo.I seems to me the system is being used as originally intended. Contemporary branding design is about much more than just a logo. Surely someone professing to be a branding expert should know this?Whether Martin Lindstrom likes the London 2012 branding or not, he plainly doesn't know enough about the design aspects of branding to be writing this article without seeking some more qualified opinions – which it is obvious he hasn't done. I don't care how influential Time Magazine thinks he is or how many books he has written this strikes me as lazy demi-brained stuff.But it's the baseless theory the the logo has somehow been underused that is really unforgivable. What is this? An amateur blog? Quality writing doesn't start with a dodgy premise.And, for the record, I have nothing to do with Wolff Olins or the London 2012 branding project.

  • Kurt Williams

    The logo is very cool thanks for pointing out to me that it spells 2012.  This Olympics has been just what Americans and other countries need right now a sense of pride and feeling of unity. Logos aside its been great watching the athletes and taking a minute to forget about wars, terrorism, and the crummy economy.

  • ceejaybee

    Seems to be that the USA media are doing their own thing, avoiding showing the London 2012 logo and even inventing one of their own (that NBC thing is awful, how are they allowed to get away with that?). Many people here in the UK didn't/don't like the logo (but not sure where the author gets his data of "40000 complaints filed" - where, exactly?) but then we have a tradition of disliking anything new and original when it first appears, and warming to it later.

  • RobertWilliamMayers

    Putting the factual inaccuracies of this post aside...

    I find it phenomenal to witness the amount of people jumping on the bandwagon of hating this Olympic mark. First of all, compare it to the majority of past Olympic marks and you find that they are dull, banal and born out of a design-by-committee process.

    London is not a mediocre place; the term, 'melting pot' is often used to describe it. How then could anything else be used to represent such a dynamic yet incredibly fractious place? Not all design needs to be pretty pictures and if you look out of your window in London or visit a quality gallery, you will accept this point.

    I applaud Wolff Olins and I point my finger at audience complacency, graphic design discourse and finally, the cancer at the heart of it – favouring effective sales: marketing and advertising.

    We as people are being increasingly lulled into becoming merely consumers of other's creations. We as consumers are being increasingly lulled into demanding aesthetically perfect products and experiences. Even if this requires us to be deceived or for us to actively seek ignorance, we are proving that we are increasingly taking it.

    WAKE UP AND JOIN IN.

  • Paul

    Can not agree with this post at all. The Logo is everywhere and plays a major part in the branding of the London Olympics and Team GB. This you got this one wrong in a big way!

  • Julie

    I can assure you the logo is everywhere. It's one of the most unifying aspects of the Olympics. Most people hate it. 

  • Rob

    1) the logo is everywhere at events

    2) the 2008 Olympics were in Beijing
    3) Get your facts right before publishing drivel

    For the record, I very much like the logo and associated typeface

  • Laura_56

    iSnack2.0 never replaced Vegemite's brand, it was the name of a diffusion product that combined butter/vegemite. Kraft had been running competition since the products inception, whereby the new product was simply labelled 'name this' and consumers were encouraged to submit entries.

    Where they fell over was by not involving consumers in the decision making process and when the name was announced it was deemed ridiculous by both the public/media.

  • Paddy

    I live in London and I can assure you it's pretty much everywhere here - it's been difficult to avoid for the last few weeks. Which, you know, kinda ruins the whole premise of your article...

  • tallg

    Are you watching the same Olympics as me?

    Off the top of my head, I've seen the logo;

    on the floor in the middle of the basket ball court
    on the banners hanging down in the excel arena
    on the floor of the boxing ring
    on the screens at wimbledon
    on screens behind people at press conferences
    on the plane that delivered the torch from greece
    on the floor in the middle of the handball court
    on the street/direction signs in the olympic park 
    on a massive spread behind the archery targets
    on many items of clothing worn by spectators

  • Emily Brackett

    Last night I watched the Men's Volleyball and it did not appear to be anywhere in that stadium. They had the Olympic rings on the court and the typeset London 2012 on the walls around the court, but the actual 2012 logo shown above was absent.