And the winner is...

How Has Team GB's design fared at this year's Olympics?
In the spirit of the Olympic Games I've taken a moment to examine the role design has played in London 2012. I have broken down design's contribution into four disciplines: Visual Graphics, Product Design, Fashion and Urban Planning and ranked their performance according to Gold, Silver or Bronze medals in each discipline.

So, what's the result? Does London 2012 get a gold medal for its conceptual stamina, visual prowess and creative originality or is this a performance to forget? And what does this tell us about Brand London?

And the winner is... - Brand Union
1. Visual Graphics - Silver (after an impassioned appeal)

There's no better test for the argument "that you will grow to like something in time" than the Olympic 2012 Logo. Well it's been five years and I have to admit, it has grown on me. Despite looking like the visual equivalent of Dad Dancing, it is single minded in going for the Yoof vote. Something fresh and edgy with a funky, jagged typeface has helped Britain differentiate itself effectively from its predecessor.

The visual branding of London 2012 deliberately avoids any reference to national identity. By doing this it breaks with the past and emphasises the values of a new generation of Londoners. Not since Mexico 1968 has anyone tried something radically different. In this way Brand London showcases its capacity to reinvent and renew itself. This is authentic London.

And the winner is... - Brand Union
And the winner is... - Brand Union
2. Product Design - No medals

There have been some notable product designs to distract the public from the logo's wacko performance, but not in a good way. The Olympic torch looks like a cheese grater and the Game's mascots Wenlock and Mandeville look disturbingly like they ought to be found in adult shops rather than McDonalds. Did London want to usher in the first torch to run on Parmesan, while aiming to haunt the nation's children with sex toys that have sprouted gigantic eyes?

To be fair to the mascots, they are only following a proud tradition of bonkers Olympic Mascots. It started with the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, when France presented Schuss to the world, a cartoon character that became known as the Skiing Sperm. Since then all manner of misshapen and barely identifiable creatures have followed. Special mention should also go to Goleo VI, Germany's World Cup mascot. This exhibitionist, trouser-less lion, and his highly disturbing sidekick, the talking ball known as Pille, briefly embarrassed Germany on the world stage before making a hasty exit; presumably to find some suitable underwear.

And the winner is... - Brand Union
And the winner is... - Brand Union
3. Fashion - Silver

One exception to all this visual outrageousness is Team GB's kit designed by Stella McCartney with Adidas. There was plenty of competition in this discipline for "the best dressed games ever". Quick on her designer heels were Ralph Lauren for team USA, Armani and Prada for Italy and Suit Supply for the Dutch, to name a few.

Apart from the questionable white and gold Star Trek tracksuits, Stella has pulled off a winning performance, striking a good balance between national symbolism, functionality and style.

My gold goes to Bob Marley's daughter Cedella's design for Team Jamaica though. It's got the same visual swagger as Usain Bolt and made the team look like instant fashion icons.

Given the wide range of fabulous young fashion designers in South Africa, our grisly, Chinese-made Erka kit is a missed opportunity, but the team with possibly the Game's worst uniform are the poor old Spanish who, not content with bidding for the World's most bankrupt country, seem to want to dress their athletes in McDonalds uniforms.

And the winner is... - Brand Union
And the winner is... - Brand Union
4. Urban Planning - Gold, New World Record

While in London, I worked with the East London Business Alliance, Olympic Delivery Authority and other bodies on the 2012 legacy. The aim, to ensure that the games have a positive and lasting impact on a tough part of town, is something every host nation pays lip service to, but it is a fiendishly difficult thing to pull off in practice.

Sydney, widely praised for hosting an amazing Olympics, faces an ongoing financial catastrophe over failures to adequately plan for life after the Games. The story in Greece is even more depressing. Estimates put the overall cost of the Athens Games at 9 billion Euros. And for that, the Greeks get mothballed, derelict stadia standing dusty under the baking sun. If waste was an Olympic sport, Greece would be world champions.

London's legacy will be different. From the moment the bid was conceived, 'legacy' was, and still is, the key word. It is not part of the idea. It is the idea. The single-minded focus on young people that characterised the bid and much of the branding is driven by legacy thinking and continues into the streets of London, awash with injunctions to "inspire a generation" and "be a part of it".

The Olympic Park's location in Stratford, east London was a wasteland. Today it is unrecognisable. The design of the site makes the most of the area'snatural assets - using the waterways and canals to create a place with unique character.

Post-games the park will be revamped into a new district with 8,000 homes, schools, nurseries and excellent public transport. The stadium will be reconfigured, host an anchor tenant in the form of one of London's football clubs and still provide a venue for Athletics. Everything has been designed with a 2nd life in mind.

This kind of urban design is where London 2012 has excelled. There is little doubt in my mind that the Game's greatest achievement will be its legacy.

Final Results

Much like Team GB's performance so far in these games; a slow, uncertain start, London is showing signs of finishing strongly. There's something about London, with its jumbled history, culture and buildings that mean a sketched-in, impromptu brand identity suits the place and legacy strategy.

London has done what every brand should aim for and designed the games in such a way that it feels very London. The opening ceremony captured this spirit perfectly. It was utterly eccentric and uniquely British. What a contrast to the military precision of Beijing 2008.

The lesson for brand managers is obvious. Fully integrated, long term planning is the hardest trick to pull off, but the reward is sustainable long-term growth. To avoid becoming hostage to short-term campaign thinking that bedevils brands and Olympic cities alike, you need to follow London's lead and have a 10-year plan.

China has one.
So does Coke.
What's yours for your brand?

14 Aug 2012 11:50


About the author

Mathew Weiss is the Managing Director at The Brand Union, Cape Town.