Jim Armitage: Gold for UK plc, but no podium for sponsors
The Olympics proved Britain has the creative brains to take on the world, while Samsung wiped the floor with the Games' other global backers
Jim Armitage is the City editor of The Independent and London Evening Standard group of newspapers. He has been a reporter and editor for more than 20 years and was recently shortlisted for the Press Gazette financial journalist of the year and The Society of Editors financial journalist of the year awards. He contributes news, investigative reports and comment to the Independent titles plus a daily column in the Evening Standard.
Sunday 12 August 2012
Will it be Muse? George Michael? Adele and her bump? The cast list is a closely-guarded secret, but one thing's certain: there won't be a dry eye in our house at tonight's finale for the past fortnight's extraordinarily successful carnival of sport.
And whatever choreographer Kim Gavin has up his sleeve to complement Danny Boyle's opening ceremony, we Brits have come to learn that it'll probably be brilliant. Britain, the Olympics has taught us, can be, as they say, Great.
Of course, this new tide of optimism is mainly down to the feats of our athletes. But the events' staging has been almost as important – a testimony to our creative, engineering and architectural industries. What other country could have drawn on such a rich encyclopaedia of cool and appropriate music (James's "Sit Down" for sinbinned hockey players, Fatboy Slim's "Shaking that Ass" at the beach volleyball, David Bowie's "Heroes" whenever possible)?
Who else has our downright cheeky events organisation skills (those thrones for Wiggo and Co at Hampton Court, the Queen parachuting into the stadium with James Bond)? For patriotic reasons, I won't mention the awful, overpriced food and drink stands at the BT London Live venue in Hyde Park.
The promised boost to London trade in the short term may have proved elusive – that seemed unlikely from the outset. But the longer term impact for Britain when our chief exectuives pitch overseas should be huge. Not just for the hundreds whose engineering firms, IT consultancies and building contractors actually worked on the Games, but for all bosses assuring potential clients that our brains are among the world's best – a message that has perhaps got lost in the negative global publicity created by the City's wrongs.
But for the global firms who splashed out on sponsorship deals, the benefits are less clear. Some have obtained truly golden performances: Arcelor Mittal's billionaire founder Lakshmi Mittal paid a relatively lowly £23m to build Anish Kapoor's Orbit sculpture. It may look like a broken-down rollercoaster to my uneducated eye, but you can't deny millions more people have now heard of Mittal and his steel empire.
BMW scored highly with its fleet of liveried cars crowding London's streets and those little remote controlled mini Minis ferrying athletes' javelins around the stadium.
But how successful have the "top tier" sponsors been? These are the multinational giants who agree to spend many more tens of millions attaching their names to each of a number of Summer and Winter Olympics. Seems to me they've had a more mixed impact, but the gold medal has to go to Samsung.
The company was lucky the Games came as Apple was in between iPhone launches while Samsung had just released its big-screen Galaxy S-Three model. But the way it has used the Games to highlight the benefits of the new screen both for filming live events and replaying video footage has been canny.
McDonald's has not fared so well, mainly because, like Coca-Cola, it's trying to use a sporting event to plug an unhealthy product. But the fat merchants have fared very differently. Figures from marketing agency Precise show that in social network chatter, only a third of comments about Maccy D's and the Olympics were positive, compared with two-thirds of Coke's. The reason? Probably that Coke sponsored the Olympic torch relay and threw concerts along the route. This gave it big popularity away from London and the South-east. That's clever enough to earn Coke the silver medal in my book, but why didn't it plug more of its healthier stuff like Five Alive and Oasis?
Bronze is a tough call. I'm going to hand it to Omega for the fact that Jess Ennis snuck in a mention of hers on the Beeb the other night. And it manages the rare feat of getting its logos into the stadia.
Don't know about you, but the likes of Acer, Atos and Panasonic have made little impact on my consciousness, while Dow's presence only served to remind the public of the Bhopal disaster. But that's nothing compared with the travesty of Visa. Its insistence on exclusivity in the park and on the ticket website irritated the hell out of half the population – me included – who are with Mastercard. Since when has annoying your potential customers been good marketing? Wooden spoon time, chaps.
All in all, a wonderful Games for Team GB plc, but most of the global behemoths should sharpen up their acts for Rio in four years' time.
It's time to kick the thrill-seeking boxers out of our banks
New York trader Sean George was interviewed in a magazine last week with his face bleeding and swollen. He wasn't a victim of another Manhattan street robbery, but a Fight Club volunteer at an amateur kickboxing bout.
As he took another knee to the groin, his eye closing up from the punch he'd taken just before, he declared he'd not been so happy all year.
You see, for a former Deutsche Bank credit default swaps trader like him, there just isn't enough fun left in banking these days. "I enjoy taking risks," he explained.
Nowadays, he said, the big banks have moved to safer sports. Regulators are clamping down. The day job's becoming, frankly, a bit boring. That's why he now plies his trade at the racier, but smaller, Jeffries bank.
Well, I'm sorry Sean, but that's good for the rest of us, as we taxpayers needn't pay to mop up the blood when your gambles go awry.
There's a particular irony that he finds his Muay Thai fighting so exhilarating, because kickboxing happens like banking doesn't.
Take a risk in the ring that goes wrong and get your face broken: it hurts. In modern banking, if a trader makes a bum deal which loses millions of dollars, he pays no personal penalty. But if the gamble goes his way, he makes thousands of pounds. Dangerous betting is inherently encouraged.
We always thought Standard Chartered was the exception to the rule – boring but safe. But now we're not so sure. Even if chief executive Peter Sands is right, and his bank "only" committed $14m of dodgy transactions with Iran, that's still seriously illegal.
On Wednesday, he and his lieutenant, Richard Meddings (the potty-mouthed one, allegedly), face the watchdogs in New York to explain themselves. They should quell their bankers' instinct for fighting back. Instead, they must take the punches, agree a fine and humbly give back their bonuses.
Then, publicly, go about creating an obsessively clean culture at Standard Chartered, rooting out the gamblers, the pit-fighters, who seek to game the law.
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