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It’s a new brand day for UK Olympics: The London Olympic logo takes off

The ‘squashed swastika’ of London 2012 is being embraced by Britain’s youth, the organisers tell Ian Burrell. Design experts still aren’t so sure

It was a “solid gold stinker”, a “bizarre squashed swastika”, a “puerile mess”. The logo for London 2012 was greeted with all the enthusiasm of a fumbled baton on the last leg of the 100m relay final.

When the £400,000 Wolff Olins-produced design was unveiled last summer at the Roundhouse in north London, Lord Coe, the chairman of the organising committee (Locog), predicted that the jagged badge would become “the heartbeat to the games”, and José Mourinho, Jamelia, Andy Murray and Dame Kelly Holmes all did their best to look convinced. The backlash in the press and, especially, online was uniformly negative. Even now the furore is remembered by Locog officials as “Logogate”.

Yet 16 months on, as he sits in his 23rd floor Canary Wharf office with an eagle’s-eye aspect of a similarly-maligned London icon (the old Millennium Dome), Chris Townsend, the committee’s commercial director, remains adamant the launch was a triumph. “Because of the success of the launch and the discussion through the internet we achieved within 18 weeks the level of recognition we were anticipating within 18 months,” he says.

You mean all publicity is good publicity? “Yes. We achieved overall brand recognition across the UK of 85 per cent within three months and worldwide we believe the figure is significantly over 50 per cent.”

Originally presented in one of four plain “core” colours, the 2012 logo is becoming increasingly visible across the capital on the sides of taxis, on the sleeves of sportswear and on letterheads. The seven “Tier One” sponsors of the games have each adapted the much-criticised outline (“the brand” as Townsend calls it) to include their corporate colours.

The space in the middle of the outline has been filled with the colours of the Union Flag for a new version

released on 24 August to mark the transition of the Olympics from China to the United Kingdom. Numerous such “in-fills” will emerge in the next four years, featuring photographs, graphics and animation.

Townsend cites as evidence for the popularity of the logo among young people the demand for 2012 clothing produced by the games’s sportswear licencee, Adidas, one of seven “Tier One” commercial partners. “Adidas have got a large flagship store in Oxford Street and they’ve got our initial merchandise range there for sale,” he points out. “The range covers 5 per cent of the floor space and accounts for about 20 per cent of the turnover of the store.”

Adidas and Lloyds TSB have used animation in their television advertising campaigns to make the 2012 logo come to life. The other Tier One partners – BP, BT, British Airways, EDF and Nortel – have all built their own variations.

Townsend says we can’t fail but to become familiar with this logo because of the financial commitment the partners have made, spending up to £40m each and more than £400m between them. “You would not have achieved that level of sponsorship without those partners endorsing the brand and the strategy and understanding how they can use it to get the return on investment they are looking for.”

A possible ten “Tier Two” partners, including the accountancy giant Deloitte, will be signed up to less extensive rights to use the logo.

Townsend, a former marketing director of BSkyB, believes he already detects a change in public opinion on the controversial design. “The response to this Union Jack infill has been phenomenal,” he trills. “When you hold this image up against previous summer games Olympic brands you see how revolutionary and leading edge this is, which is what we wanted and in truth what the International Olympic Committee were looking for.”

He says the reason the 2012 logo wasn’t presented with a more imaginative infill at the launch was a concern over the need to fully protect the international copyright to the outline. “One of the most critical elements was to design an emblem that we could protect. We needed to ensure the mark would be instantly recognisable as our mark and that it was a mark we could register and protect around the world. This mark has a significant job to do – it’s got to generate revenue through sponsorship and has to generate revenue through merchandise.”

This is why the committee didn’t go for something more obvious, such as an outline of Tower Bridge, which could have presented considerable rights problems. The logo does not end with the outline. There is also a jagged and unique 2012 typeface, which already appears alongside the BA version, and a 2012 grid pattern made from “shards” created by projecting the angles of the original outline. This pattern will be used, like a vast piece of chequered material, to “brand dress” the Olympic sites and London landmarks as well. Townsend says Locog did try to explain that there was more to this logo than the original design but the world wasn’t listening. That, he claims, is a typical response to something people haven’t seen before. “We’ve been told by organising committees of previous Olympic Games, including Sydney and Athens, that this is what typically happens in the life of a games. It happened with Vancouver where they had significant negative feedback and a very conservative mark compared to ours,” he says. “It happens all the time in the world of re-brands. BP had similar issues when they re-branded. It just seems par for the course.”

He says the concept of an evolving 2012 logo in multiple forms mirrors similar fluid strategies by such famous brands as Google and MTV. “The role of the brand has changed. Thirty or 40 years ago a mark would be fixed for a long time. In this day and age… a brand has to adapt for many environments.”

In the distance the sun glints on the Dome, now re-branded with considerable success as the O2. Whether the London 2012 logo can also re-emerge as a winner remains to be seen. Experts in the design community spoken to by The Independent last week were not prepared to withdraw their earlier criticisms. But Townsend is convinced that time will yet prove them wrong. “By 2012 we believe the majority of people will have accepted it as an iconic mark,” he says, “and one that I hope they will love.”

The logo: What they say

Stephen Bayley, Cultural commentator

June 2007

“A puerile mess, an artistic flop and a commercial scandal. There are 5,000 talented designers who could have done the job for £10,000.”

October 2008

“Good design is always capable of development, but each evolution of the atrocious Olympic logo exposes its fundamental weaknesses as a communications device. Expensive, badly conceived and completely unloved by everyone except those who made it and their credulous paymasters, it does one thing perfectly. This is to be a scary diagram of second-rate mess, patronising rubbish and confusion to come. Like the Millennium Dome it so closely resembles, 2012 and its ham-fisted logo already look like a mad woman’s breakfast."

Martyn Perks, Design consultant, cScape

June 2007

“The bizarre squashed swastika that is the London 2012 Olympics logo perfectly captures the authorities’ confusion about what the Games are for.”

October 2008

“The 2012 Olympic logo has failed to capture our imaginations no matter how many colours they print it in, including putting the Union Jack inside it. Its socially inclusive ‘yoof’ aesthetic only reflects a flagging sense of Britishness than a truly Olympian, universal spirit. Redraw it now – or it will become a worldwide joke.”

Adrian Shaughnessy, Author, ‘How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul’

June 2007

“The London 2012 logo is a solid gold stinker. A self-conscious gesture of forced trendiness that failed every test you can apply.”

October 2008

“I no longer want to lob a brick at it when I see it, and as with so many aspects of modern life, I’ve become acclimatised to it. I’d even go as far as to say that when it’s used in isolation it can be a pretty effective piece of graphic communication. But it will always be a missed opportunity.”