Claire Beale on Advertising: The Olympic spirit - work for nothing!

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The Independent Online

Perhaps it was inevitable that the London Olympics body, Locog, would annoy adland. Any client whose very name revels in the notion of committee has to be trouble. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games: sounds like the sort of advertiser that wouldn't recognise great advertising if it stood on a podium waving a gold Lion.

Oh, but Locog has the dream of an advertising brief: to create the global, integrated knobs-on campaign for the 2012 Olympic Games. Ad accounts don't come more prestigious. This is a real agency-transforming, agenda-setting, career-building opportunity to make history. Not just advertising history, national history, global history. Yes, when Locog invited agencies to pitch for its account, the advertising beasts were slavering.

But there was a catch: money. Locog wanted agencies to pay them. Locog wanted to the winning agency to buy the account. Well perhaps that's a little crude and I've no doubt it was never framed that way. But Locog effectively wanted an agency that would work – in rather large part – for no fee. In return, the winning agency would be granted the status of an Olympic sponsor.

So instead of being a contest to find the agency with the best creative ideas, the Locog pitch became something of an auction, with the account going to the highest suitable bidder. For a committee whose creative track record to date centres on the embarrassment of the London 2012 logo, that's quite a risk.

Some agencies thought so too. One apparently pulled out on principle: great advertising deserves the respect of a proper fee and the Olympics needs the greatest advertising the industry can produce. Heck, the British people deserve the greatest advertising for their Olympics. Isn't that worth paying properly and responsibly for?

Other agencies, sensible of the undoubted value of the sponsorship package and the leverage that the account could give to their new business efforts, were more pragmatic. They did some calculations. In the midst of the worst recession in modern advertising history, and at the same time as making swathes of redundancies, could they afford to give work away in return for having their corporate logo in the list of official sponsors? Hmm.

Let's be clear. Agencies often work for free or at cost – generally for charities and for hard-up causes that they passionately believe in. It's usual. But Locog is not a charity. Nor is it likely to be a pathetically grateful client that's relatively easy to work for and that welcomes creative risk-taking. The Olympics account is going to be one of the most demanding, labour-intensive, scrutinised and criticised pieces of business any agency will ever be called upon to cancel its weekends for.

Yes, it might also be the most tremendously exciting, adrenaline-driving, high-profile and perhaps rewarding account ad execs will ever get the chance to work on. And being an Olympics sponsor is a tremendous opportunity. It must be, some of the world's bluest chip advertisers have signed up: Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Adidas and more. You get to have your brand associated with the biggest event in the world, watched by a global audience of billions.

So hurrah, McCann-Erickson has just won the business. I think they're pleased. Rumour is they're paying around £10m in value-in-kind resource. For that McCanns gets to show the world the global breadth and depth of its communications offering and will enjoy all the benefits of sponsorship, like the fantastic PR, networking, and corporate hospitality possibilities that can open up new business doors, cement existing client relationships and motivate staff.

There have been some mutterings about the fact that the account has gone to the US-owned McCanns rather than the other key contender, the British WPP, which, it's said, wasn't prepared to pay as much as £10m for the business. Pah. Advertising's a global business and the days for petty jingoism are long gone.

Locog may have held an unconventional pitch – and God forbid this should inspire other clients – but it has appointed a solid agency partner which will do a very respectable job. No advertising campaign will be more critically scrutinised than this Olympics work. It had better be very, very good. The critics of Locog's pitch are already loading their guns.

Best in show: Doritos(AMV BBDO)

Dodgeball: a game in which teams have to, well, dodge the balls thrown by their opponent. Far too energetic. So Doritos and its ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO bring you an online version (at where you fire balls at a real, live opponent who's trapped in a room in a secret location in London's East End. All you have to do is line up the balls via your computer screen. The campaign is running every day this month, and some of the UK's leading Dodgeball teams are waiting to take you on. It's a gloriously fun idea.