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Brand Identity

Creative Debate: London’s 2012 Olympic Logo



Creative debates come and go. Some, like that of Tropicana’s new packaging and London’s 2012 Olympic logo are sure to have a long shelf-life. As Wolff Olins’ work on the 2012 logo continues to be scrutinized, we would like to gauge your reaction to the design above. To begin, two marketers share their opposing views.

Loves it: Bryan Bedell
Just like most people, our first reaction to the London 2012 logo was shock. But we talked about it all morning, and by 3pm, we decided we love it. And here’s why you should, too:

It’s not boring. The bright colours and distinctive design definitely do stand out, and it’s immediately recognisable.

It’s different. It avoids all the go-to pratfalls of current logo designs. No brushstrokes, feathered drop shadows, mirrored reflections, gradients, patriotic colours, rainbows, ribbons, landmarks, symbols of unity, maps, swooshes or globes!

It’s reproducible. It’s good to see a logo that’s so easily printable, broadcast-able, embroider-able and moldable. It even looks pretty great in black and white.

It’s flexible. A variety of colour combinations, shapes and patterns are available, keeping the logo slightly different on each view, but consistent. Keep in mind that an Olympic logo is almost always saddled with the logos of corporate partners. This square, bold mark will hold up.

It’s the basis for a graphic system. Events require a complicated system of signage, identification, ornamentation and even architecture. This logo and its associated colours, shapes, type and patterns are the perfect starting point for some fantastic signage, event icons, banners, tickets, uniforms and merchandise.

It’s English. The two names that come to mind when we hear “British design” are two of our favorites of all time: Neville Brody and Peter Saville. Without being a direct knockoff, the 2012 logo is evocative of their work, the punk and new-wave movements, rave culture and everything we like about the UK.

It’s simple. Some of the greatest logos of all time involve two lines (the Christian cross) or three lines and a circle (Mercedes).

It cost £400,000. That’s probably a bargain for an incredibly high-profile complete graphic identity system for an international event designed by experienced professionals.

It’s unexpected. After years of forgettable, watered-down, designed-by-committee logos, it’s nice to see something different and well thought out for long-term relevance. Sure, it may not be perfect and the feel-good mumbo-jumbo used to sell it to the public was pretty silly, but we feel confident that once the logo sinks in and we see how it’s used and how other elements relate to it, it will become a source of pride for London and the Games.

Bryan Bedell works at Chicago-based design firm Coudal Partners.

Loathes it: Mark Ritson
There is only one thing wrong with the London 2012 logo. It’s s#$%.

I can tell you this with total and utter certainty because I am a marketer. And unlike the po-faced designers that have lined up to defend Wolff Olins’ woeful efforts, I actually understand what marketing and branding are all about. First, you find out what people want. Then, you give it to them.

It’s not about being “counter intuitive” or “daring” or “energetic”. That works for the Turner Prize, but when it comes to designing the identity for the most important sporting event in Britain for 50 years, you should apply the rules of marketing. It’s about delivering on the brief and giving the target customer what they want.

Both of these challenges were very clearly laid out. The London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) wanted to position 2012 as the games for everyone. And when the media asked everyone what they thought of the 2012 logo, they spoke with remarkable national unanimity: they hated it. They still hate it. And they will hate it when it comes time to represent London to the world.

Above, a brand “guru” is no doubt speaking in the singular and citing his own preferences and perceptions.

My position speaks with about 50 million times the power because I am not representing my own viewpoint, but that of the market – in this case, the British population. In the most representative study of public reaction to the logo, 68% of respondents “hated” the design. Not “disliked” or “felt neutral”, but hated it.

That is why the 2012 logo is so ineffective. Not because I say so or a design guru says it isn’t, but because the people it was designed to appeal to, to involve, to engage, absolutely hate it.

Remember what our discipline is all about. Listen to your customers next time.

Mark Ritson is a co-author of Branding Strategy Insider, a renowned brand strategist and MIT Professor of Marketing.

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chibiryan on June 29th, 2009 said

I’m not an expert in design nor marketing (still learning through work experience), but am certainly passionate in both areas. And being in a community that is always growing, I don’t quite agree with Mark’s comment that the Olympics is “not about being “counter intuitive” or “daring” or “energetic”.”

As rt of the general public audience of the Olympics, I feel it’s quite on the contrary. Even to the organizing committee, I feel it should be one of their top priorities to host an Olympics that is suited for modern times, that has grown with the society. Logo re-design is just one starting point.

So it’s great to see how years of Olympic logos are evolving, breaking tradition, breaking rules and conventionality. But I also believe that for an important and global event like the Olympics, certain traditions will not be forgotten, like the union of the five rings and the COLORS. From a marketing standpoint, it will also help with strengthening/refreshing Olympic’s branding rather than offering a new one.

Having said that, I think this logo design tries to achieve the spirit of growing, but it lacks a strong connection to the forever known Olympics.

Just my thoughts.

GSP on June 29th, 2009 said

Once you hear the comparison that it looks like Lisa Simpson doing something rather rude, it’s impossible to see anything else.

Before that, it just looks like a t-shirt design from the 80s.

Anne Thompson on June 29th, 2009 said

I hate it.
From a consumer’s viewpoint:
Hate the colors, hate the sharp jagged edges,
I find it uninspiring and even depressing to look at. I had an immediate, visceral negative reaction to it.

From a neo-marketer’s viewpoint:
Hate the lack of connectivity to Olympics, games, unity – except for the dead giveaway O-rings; you shouldn’t have to work all day to “decide” you love it – a la Bryan Bedell; I found his reasons to be lame and unconvincing.

Taylor Vignali on June 29th, 2009 said

Honestly, love it! In the digital world we now live…it will be amazing to see the variations of this logo that will play out in motion. Pure genius.

JMoore on June 30th, 2009 said

I’ve gotta go with “Horrible” on this one. Not only is it completely illegible, resembling a poor attempt at an urban or “manga” style… it doesn’t say “London”… it says, “probably somewhere in east Asia.” And come on… the Olympic rings have been downgraded from an iconic symbol into just being, what seems to be, an afterthought dropped into place as the negative space in the “0”??? Also, what’s the deal with “London” being dropped into what is either a “2” or some kind of mark made by someone suffering from a seizure? All in all, this looks like an amateur attempt by a design student in Design 101. Very trendy and boring, lacking creativity and definitely will never be an “iconic symbol.” The guys who approved this logo should be quietly handed a pink slip, or given a trip to the eye doctor for an exam to determine blindness. Terrible.

David Airey on June 30th, 2009 said

I respect Wolff Olins for trying something different, but when this one was released I thought it was way off the mark.

Still do.

It’s definitely distinctive, but I don’t think it’s appropriate. I thought it catered more towards young teenagers (you know, trying to get the British youth involved in the games), but when they started saying how bad it was…

Here’s a design (by Daniel Eatock) that I find much more appropriate. One that should’ve been used instead:


(scroll down a little through the link)

Ron Hayes on July 06th, 2009 said

Absolutely one of the worst logos I have seen recently. I hate the colors, the super small size of the Olympic rings and the illegible 2012. I had to look carefully for some time before I recognized those shapes as numbers. You talk all you want about how “creative” and “cutting edge” but logo design is supposed to be about helping people identify with the core of the brand. If that logo is supposed to represent London and the 2012 games, I don’t want to have any part in it – that’s how poorly I think it does it’s marketing job.

Mike Andrews on July 27th, 2009 said

If you design a brand or identity by simply asking what most people want, you end up with boring. Or worse, something like this:


It remains to be seen whether it works as an overall visual identity as the myriad applications have yet to be carried out, but, as is argued time and again, this logo provides the basic building blocks of something much bigger and more dynamic that doesn’t simply exist on its own. No-one can deny that this identity is bold and vibrant.

The problem was initially the way it was launched. The only thing we got to see was the logo itself and a shoddy animation that triggered people’s epilepsy, alongside some abstract press release from Sebastian Coe.

Would we be happier with some generic template prescription that the past few games have seen?

Out of these, which one will you remember?


Personally I think we should reserve judgment until the whole brand is seen in context, with all its various applications, but the logo provides a promising set of ingredients with which this can be crafted.

Ricky Salsberry on July 28th, 2009 said

The “public” also adores Miley Cyrus.

You can write that you dislike this logo. I’ve no problem with that. But citing the fact that the public doesn’t like it isn’t going to convince me that the professional who designed this was off base. The taste of the public as a whole is suspect, and you know it. If you’re designing tubesocks, then sure, listening to exactly what people want is valid… but like you mentioned, this is the the most important sporting event in Britain for 50 years… it deserves something more than a tubesock vanilla identity.

Say what you want about the logo. That’s not the entire story here. I have little doubt that this will be a visual jumping off point to create a pretty remarkable brand.

I like it. You can hate it, just hate it for the right reasons.

Andrew Sabatier on July 28th, 2009 said

Whether people like the 2012 logo or not isn’t the issue. Whether people appreciate and respect the 2012 brandmark is.

Most people are not equipped with the media skills required to grasp the appropriateness of brand identity work. To ask them whether or not they like the work is a biased and unfair question. Particularly if they are pressed to judge not only a ‘logo’ but a logo independent of the proposed experience, of the brand in its entirety and of the event itself.

The 2012 identity is appropriately different from other Olympic brand identities. The new identity fits well with the perceived attributes of the British nation as manifested in the irreverence of punk, the celebration of the anti-hero and amateur genius, the holding of intellectuals with suspicion, relentless complaint, pragmatism and the rejection of anyone who tells them what to do.

A description of a brandmark and the role a brandmark plays in a brand experience would enable people to better assess the value of the 2012 identity. Logos are familiar to most people and in many instances held in contempt with fair reason. Perhaps in some instances just for just being a ‘logo’. The marks of brands, on the otherhand, require uncommon insights to appreciate. This is where more effort is required to ensure a widespread understanding of the effectiveness of the 2012 brand.

The 2012 identity is not an inane ‘logo’ that can be easily passed over or only appreciated by po-faced designers, this is a brandmark representing a major and as yet unprecedented brand experience. An unprecedented experience of not just another Olympics but the 2012 Olympics in a cutting-edge, media savvy and thoroughly modern Britain.

This brand identity should be should be celebrated as a trailblazer.


J on July 28th, 2009 said

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”

Henry Ford

Hossam Abbas on October 24th, 2009 said

I agree with “Bryan Bedell” and his list of “theoretical measurements” of the logo, but still it does not do it’s main job: Communicate to people’s hearts.

Are we expecting a successful event gathering and sharing, while the people hate the symbol itself?!!

The main marketing issue, is to get access to people’s hearts and souls before their minds, the people are not going to measure the logo in technical theories, but they will FEEL it.

Fadi on October 30th, 2009 said

I’m a branding designer for the past 4 years, and I can tell that the first opinion had some logic in it, that it is different and didn’t use those patriotic cliché colors, But ( a big But) it is not LEGIBLE at all!!, I cant read the letters 012, and this is a big issue in branding, it may be recognized from the heavy media spending but it also should be recognized from its main elements (The letters).

Also another element in the logo (The Olympic rings) is a main element in the design, and it can be downsized to that level. Its the main identity over the past decade.

bryan on December 07th, 2009 said

There shouldn’t be any change in the logo design of Olympic games, because I don’t like this logo.I think the color needs much attention.

Robiati on August 31st, 2012 said

Like many designers I am no big fan of the 2012 logo. I agree with a comment I heard a while back: ‘I like what it isn’t more than what it is’. But I do accept that it is distinctive, disruptive and energetic. And there’s a clear reason for it being all of those things.

And I find many of Mark Ritson’s comments rather too self satisfied and simplistic. They show a profound lack of understanding about what a logo is there to do and how you might judge whether it’s a success or otherwise.

‘Something everyone likes’ is a pretty poor brief for a logo and no way to judge its success. How about ‘something people remember’? ‘Something distinctive that people can easily identify’? These qualities are actually more important and not automatically compatible with ‘something everyone likes’. That’s not to say it’s great if on the whole people hate your logo. But opinions change, sometimes rapidly. And if I had commissioned the 2012 logo I would value long term impact over easy acceptance. Why? Because the success of the Olympics does not hinge on the logo design but that logo can significantly affect people’s recall of these specific games in the future. And in the future the logo will almost certainly be seen as much less controversial. It’s quite possible the majority of people may even grow like it.

For example, the majority of people would now say they like impressionist painting. But in the early days of the impressionist movement it was hugely controversial. Many saw it as crude and vulgar. But it caught attention and imagination. Doubtless there was work back then that the harsh critics of impressionism DID like. But do we recall that so easily? For the most part I would say we don’t.

Too many Olympic logos have been broadly likable but instantly forgettable. That’s a real pity as they have only a limited time in the spotlight in which to make an impact. Just how many past games logos can you recall? Love it or hate it the London 2012 logo is distinctive and memorable. Those are important qualities, both for the job it has done so far and for the future legacy of the London games.

Sanmi Lajuwomi
Twitter: intuitivesanmi
on January 16th, 2013 said

Unfortunately, I fail to see what Bryan Bedell sees in the logo. Again, if one takes a long at look at anything, one can give any meaning to it, even if it is nothing more than a Jagged Edge rock. I seriously cannot comprehend what was going through the logo designer’s mind when he came up with this concept. The logo is bland and does not embody what the Olympics is about. This is a very poor attempt at trying to be different.

Now that the London Olympics has come and gone, no one remembers the logo. This was a once in a life time opportunity to change the face of the Olympics and unfortunately, it was a wasted one. The symbol that comes to mind with the mention of the Olympics is still the beautiful, entangled 5 rings (and rightfully so).

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