By Duncan Hall, Strategist & Ewan Ferrier, Creative Partner at Brand Union
The Olympics is arguably the greatest institution in our culture. It represents both the human instinct to compete and succeed, as well as notions of community, education, and development. Cities invest billions of dollars into hosting the Olympics, with the hope of infrastructure to last a lifetime, a wealth of income from tourism and media coverage, as well as the potential for the city and its Games to be etched into the history books. This is all very alluring and energising, but most cities fail to not just reach these over-hyped oases, but to actually gain any benefit whatsoever.
Instead of analysing various Olympic Games through a financial lens, as a brand and experience agency, we viewed it through a cultural lens. Arguably more appropriate in measuring the success of any given Olympics as the crux of the Olympic mission is to promote sport, culture, and education – particularly the education of youth through sport.
Lack of Longevity
When looking at the Olympic city brands (Sydney, London, Beijing, etc.) and the consequent brand experiences they deliver, we began to see that there was very little longevity built into each of them.
For example the visual identities created for each of the modern Olympics belong to a very unique group: identities that have been globally ubiquitous but that are now utterly redundant. We can easily recall the disruptive London 2012 identity with is aggressive dynamism, often containing moving imagery. It was everywhere. But when did you last see it? It’s long since become a mere visual memory, it’s slipped off our screens and magazines, through no fault of any organisation, it is just a brand that’s now run its course and is no longer required. It’s become a memory.
This idea that Olympic brands are built for the two weeks of The Games could be helpful in explaining the arguably neutral success of the Olympic movement and culture on a nations sporting culture and participation. London is often cited as both an economic and cultural success, but almost four years on, sporting participation rose, then gradually declined (with the exception of a few sports). Even looking back to the Sydney games, a 2014 study in the British Journal of Sport Medicine found there was very little evidence, if any, to suggest The Games increased sport participation in Australia.
As the world casts its eye to Brazil, we’re interested in Rio’s ability to deliver on the goals of the Olympic movement. A potential Presidential impeachment, a major corruption scandal, and a recession aside – we’re beginning to see some signs that its Olympic activations might not provide the richness necessary to establish a long-term Olympic spirit in Brazil.
A part of the Olympic movement is to instil the Olympic values in communities. Rio seems to have an well thought out education programme called “Transforma Educado” but information outside of the website is difficult, if not impossible to find which leads us to think this well presented mission is only skin deep.
The visual identities created for Rio’s Olympic and Paralympic games are surprisingly conservative and don’t seem to immediately reflect the vibrant, culture and diversity associated with the city. Instead, they appear to represent the topography of the city, and in the case of the Olympic one, it seeks to at the same time convey a not especially subtle metaphor for unity. A perfectly admirable aspiration, but the resulting design doesn’t give us the dynamic and sensual identity a city like Rio deserves.
Content also shows us the focus is very much around Rio and The Games themselves, but less so around the Olympic movement and the culture it aims to promote. The writing style is expected and corny in many ways. It does not necessarily inspire or tell me how The Games will have a profound impact on Rio, Brazil, and its people in years to come. There are even typos in the copy – come on Rio!
All of this seems to be substantiated by our colleagues in Brazil. On the ground it seems there is a lot of discontent around the longevity of brand new facilities – when existing infrastructure could have been repurposed like was done in London. Our team in Brazil attribute this need for shiny new things to a cultural inferiority complex. They believe that Brazilians don’t receive critics very well – so putting on a glamorous show may be more important than ensuring the Olympic movement works for Brazil’s future.
The Party Games
Rio seems to almost be trivialising the games. In a recent article, Brazil’s Sport Minister described The Games as a party, saying “It will be a big party and people will forget the other problems and just focus on the games.”
These short-term considerations are of course not a conscious decision (we hope). There seems to be an absence of thought on how a city Olympic brand can build and maintain not just the Olympic spirit, but a culture of education and sport. This is of course no easy feat, but an important one as the Olympics should not just be about the party, but become a platform for a nation to build itself up and have a meaningful impact on an entire generation of people.
With all of this in mind, there is an opportunity for Rio and future Olympic hosts to build Olympic brands with more purpose and more connection to audiences beyond The Games. Corporate and consumer brands do this incredibly well because they are constantly fighting for attention. From General Electric and Nike to Louis Vuitton – the strongest brands are built on meaningful and connected experiences that stay with us for a lifetime. As host cities don’t have competition - it should be easy for any one of them to build in this longevity. This is not reason to be complacent, but a reason to create a meaningful Olympic experience that is first felt this August and continues into the future fabric of Brazil.