Even though it feels like the Beijing Olympics would have just ended, we are only two years away from the next Olympic Summer Games, the 2012 London Olympics. A few days ago, the mascots for London 2012 were revealed and – sorry for being so explicit – they suck.
Wenlock and Mendeville look a bit like Teletubbies from out of space, though the organizers built a story that goes something like they were built from droplets from the steel used to build the Olympic Stadium. Yeah, right.
The name “Wenlock” is derived from the town of Much Wenlock, whose “Wenlock Olympian Games” are said to have inspired Pierre De Coubertin to create the Olympic Games. The name “Mandeville” on the other hand is derived from the town of Stoke Mandeville, whose “Stoke Mandeville Games” were the inspiration for the Paralympic Games.
The two mascots have one eye each, five bracelets that represent the Olympic rings and some kind of London Taxi light on top of their head. They are ugly, okay, but so were many other mascots before, so that’s no big issue. What bothers me is that I do not see the relationship of those two mascots with the identity of the London 2012 brand – and that’s where the real trouble is.
This is one of the mistakes in marketing I see the most often: Visual Symbols of a brand – that includes e.g. mascots but also logos – are designed to look nice, but are not designed to support their brand. That makes them exchangeable and thus irrelevant. A brand and its personality must be mirrored by its symbols.
So I started trying to learn more about the London 2012 brand and quickly found a page called “Our brand” on the London 2012 Website. What I had to read there was frightening. Quote:
“We need a powerful brand to help us achieve our ambition. A brand that combines the power of the Olympic rings and the city of London together. The number 2012 is our brand. It is universal and understandable worldwide.”
The number 2012 is a brand? Hell no, it may be what they want the logo they created to depict, but a brand is something completely different.
The “Father of Advertising”, David Ogilvy once described it like this:
“A Brand is a complex symbol. It is the intangible sum of a product’s attributes, its name, packaging, and price, its history, reputation, and the way it’s advertised. A Brand is also defined by consumers’ impressions of the people who use it, as well as their own experience.”
So the number 2012 is your brand, London? Maybe not quite.
There are thousands of books on branding available, some good, some not so good (and probably the guys in London have not even read any of the latter ones, let alone the good ones). I’ve seen a couple of them and some of my personal favorites are those by Jean-Noel Kapferer like one of his main publications “The New Strategic Brand Management”. Kapferer comes up with the “Brand Identity Prism” in which he explains six facets that make up the identity of a brand. What’s interesting about it is that it allows looking at brands from a multitude of angles. Most notably, it has one layer referring to the picture of the sender, one layer referring to the picture of the recipient and a layer linking those two. In my opinion mascots and logos play the most important role on the intermediary layer, as they can, as Kapferer calls it, “translate” the character of a brand to the target group. The London 2012 logo and mascots are not doing so.
Now simply bashing the London mascots would be a bit too easy, which is why I will also offer you an example of what I think is a great mascot to illustrate my point:
The Phillie Phanatic is probably the best known mascot in baseball. He’s a tall, green furry something (maybe a bird?), his nose resembles a baseball bat and he wears a Phillies uniform but no pants. He appeared first in 1978 and has been a huge success among Phillies fans ever since.
What I love about the Phanatic is that he really translates the character of the Phillies brand, improving the relationship between sender – in this case the Phillies Organization – and the recipient – the fans.
Let’s look at this in a bit more detail by highlighting some of the six facets of Kapferers Brand Identity Prism:
The “Physique” of the Philadelphia Phillies is that they are the oldest continuous franchise in all of American pro sports that never changed name or city (in their case since 1884). It’s not only the name that signals the strong link between the franchise and their home city. For the Phanatic, it is quite similar, even though his history is a few years shorter. USA Today once wrote about him: “He’s as much Philadelphia as cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, and Rocky Balboa.”
“Reflection” refers to how the targeted individual identifies herself in relation to the brand. The fans of the Philadelphia Phillies are known to be some of the most fanatic in the game. Having a mascot called “The Phanatic” perfectly supports the reflection of the target group. And he lives up to his name: The Phanatic is well known for taunting opponents’ players and fans – he is the most sued mascot in sports.
The last facet I want to look at is for obvious reasons the “Relationship”, and this is where the Phanatic really adds value. David Buck, Phillies Senior VP of marketing mentioned that if you want to differentiate from others in “a product that is all over the board”, a “fun ballpark experience” would be key. The Phanatic plays a huge and quite active role in this. He’s not just running around waving to the fans like other mascots do – in addition to taunting the opponents he warms up with the players, dances, drives around on his all-terrain vehicle or even skydives into the stadium. Phillies part-owner and CEO David Montgomery characterized the Phanatic like this: “Fans young and old can relate to him (…) He makes you smile, makes you laugh, and adds to the enjoyment of the game”.
Brand strategist David A. Aaker once characterized branding like this: “Branding adds spirit and a soul to what would otherwise be a robotic, automated, generic price-value proposition. If branding is ultimately about the creation of human meaning, it follows logically that it is the humans who must ultimately provide it.”
If there’s ever been a mascot adding spirit and soul it’s the Phillie Phanatic. It’s a perfect support for the Phillies brand. Looking at Wenlock and Mendeville I’m quite skeptic they will ever get that job done for London 2012.