Marketing guru Sorrell jogs on by with a smile

  • @cahalmilmo

First came Coca-Cola's free sample bearers. Then the trotting Samsung flag distributors and the Lloyds TSB streamer wavers. And finally, with a broad smile as he bore the fiery symbol of sporting purity, came the millionaire ad man who knows the power of a brand more than any other.

Sir Martin Sorrell, the founder of WPP, the world's largest advertising agency, yesterday joined the list of corporate grandees who have held aloft the Olympic flame on a journey which represents, in the words of London Mayor Boris Johnson, the "democratisation of the fire of the gods".

If the slick caravan which preceded the torch as it wound through the Borough of Redbridge was anything to go by, it is equally about the commoditisation of the London Games and raising ever higher the profile of its sponsors.

Amid efforts by London 2012 organisers to downplay the corporate flavour of the Games, Sir Martin, who has done more than most to usher in the ubiquity of modern marketing, jogged on by at the invitation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), waving at spectators sipping their Olympic flame bottles of limited-edition Coca-Cola – a WPP client.

Not that the tracksuited chief executive was much of a celebrity on Ilford's Cranbrook Road. When asked about the identity of the torchbearer, whose £12.9m pay packet was rejected by WPP shareholders last month, most shrugged.

David Adams, 34, who works in advertising and thus did recognise Sir Martin, said: "It's a little bit rich. WPP minimises its tax exposure and Sorrell isn't exactly known for his sporting prowess. Just why is he running past my road in the company of youth workers and carers?"

To be fair to the 67-year-old marketing guru, he was not bearing the flame because of a sponsorship deal.

A WPP spokesman said: "Martin was invited to take part in the torch relay by the IOC because he's been a long-term supporter. He helped them put together the strategy to appeal to young athletes and sports fans. He also supported the successful London 2012 bid campaign."

In truth, the Olympic spirit was alive and well on the streets of Redbridge despite rather than because of the marketing circus that surrounds the torch relay.

Farisa Khan, 11, was holding a home-made paper model of the golden flame as she stood by the roadside with her parents.

She said: "It's great. But I just like the runners."