Roll up, roll up! The latest idea to save money. Sounds modern, sounds clever, sounds cheap. Let’s ‘crowdsource’ our logo.
I was on BBC World Business yesterday covering the challenge facing the 2020 Olympic committee. Following plagiarism allegations, they scrapped their first logo and threw the competition open to everyone with a Japanese residency. In theory a lovely story with a grand gesture of democratising design. The winner won’t even get paid for it! Just a ticket to the games. They don’t have to have any credentials. Novel, innovative – but is it smart?
Choosing the right logo for a global event of immense cultural (and commercial) significance is a complex undertaking. I’m all for a public contribution to the final design but there is a reason why companies pay for expert help to put thoughtful, strategic process around the actual design.
Why does it matter?
- This logo is how money will be made. The Olympics (like any big sporting event) makes its money in 4 ways: ticketing, sponsorships, licencing & broadcast rights. The official logo is essential to each of those : it ensures tickets are bona fide; gives sponsors access to unique branded programmes, provides broadcasters a way to promote their schedules and enables consumers to buy souvenirs of a memorable occasion. It’s big, branded business. London 2012 sold £1bn of logo branded merchandise alone – and the IOC itself estimates that only 2% of its revenues come from such merchandise.
- So they need to own the means of making money. The most important criteria for any logo, therefore, is its legal protection; it must be a unique, ownable piece of intellectual property. It’s how the Local Organising Committee, the International Federation and the commercial sponsors monetise the games – without protection copies will be made, without clear ownership they can be sued for shares of the income. They’ll need to prove (again) that this new design is not derivative. They’ll also have to ensure that the person who comes up with the idea for this logo is happy to do so in return without a share of the earnings from the event…
- It should be a mark with power and huge potential. This logo will act as a symbol of the identity of the games and can also act as a badge of national pride. What logo is chosen will communicate an important global message about Tokyo’s beliefs and aspirations around the games.
- This logo cannot cause offence. This is always true of any global logo but is especially sensitive for a global event like the Olympics. It should be pressure-tested against causing cultural offence in every corner of the globe, exploring inadvertent use of religious iconography or historical icons. This is particularly important in a world where social media accelerates and amplifies any mistakes made. Checking that is not quick or simple.
- This logo has to work very, very, very hard. The logo needs to be clear, consistent and recognisable across a multitude of media and against a complex set of contexts. Anticipating how an identity will be used and making sure it remains authentic when used in a digital and dynamic world is a real skill. Making that identity work with some of the world’s most iconic logos as well is also critical. The logo will appear with those of Coca-Cola, Omega and others. It needs to be look good and be credible in company with these, standing out but without competing against them.
Not anyone can do this. Bear in mind that when it comes to logos, everyone’s an expert. It’s like football – everyone you meet thinks they can do better than the manager of their club or national team. With logos it’s always easy to be cynical: ‘my daughter could do better than that and she’s 4’ and it’s ridiculously easy to be terribly subjective ‘I showed it to my wife and she said it wasn’t quite wow enough.’
Simplicity is key in logo creation. Some of the world’s most iconic logos are outrageously simple (the Nike ‘swoosh’, the Coke Wave); others are getting simpler by the year – (Google’s newer cleaner design). Getting to simple is one of the hardest things a committee can do though. It requires bravery and it requires confidence. Expertise helps deliver those things.
Then, once the logo is created and agreed, that’s only the start of it. A logo is always an empty vessel. It’s associations and the behaviours of the brand around it, together with where and when it appears – that’s what adds stories and personality around it.
With a 2020 Olympic Committee already mired in false starts & money stresses, let’s hope that the next logo is designed with a clear paper trail behind it from start to finish, fending off accusations of plagiarism and having its copyright and trade mark registration secure. Then it can be uniquely associated with a glorious event that ultimately unites the globe behind a higher purpose – the celebration of human achievement in sport.