The brand police have arrived


How this particular strain of commercialism is ruining sporting events for everyone else.

I’ve blogged before on how commercial monopolies that have become part and parcel of big events are now ruining them. At the time of the bid, I was quite supportive of it – the prospect of going to see some of the events while at the same time pondering the prospect of the widespread redevelopment of an economically deprived part of East London were things I saw as being good.

But as the years went by, there were more and more things that began to disturb me. The prospect of every tinpot dictator and their entourages turning up and being given extra-special treatment was one. The concept of “VIP Lanes” for motor vehicles was another. Ostensibly for competitors to get to and from venues, I can’t help but think they’ll be used by the super-rich to bounce between venues, their hotels and the department stores of Knightsbridge. Since the bid, the world economy has imploded and as we look around, we face the prospect of the super-rich flaunting their ostentatious wealth in the faces of people that are really struggling.

There has also been a far greater focus on the transparency of bidding for sporting events – especially since the debacle of England’s 2018 World Cup bid – or rather from my perspective, the debacle of the 2022 World Cup being awarded to Qatar. (My personal take is that (all other things being equal) Russia have a strong enough footballing pedigree to justify hosting a World Cup).

On the commercialisation of such events, when The Daily Mail is criticising you for over-commercialisation, you know you’re in trouble. For me, the level of advertising and branding has got to levels where it’s now quite frankly intrusive. I found this out at a Test Match last year. I don’t need to know who is the official provider of farts to the Olympics. I don’t need to know that the official supporter of telly coverage of the Euros is bet-and-booze-dot-com. Telling me this stuff makes me want to do the opposite of buying your stuff.

Interestingly, some people in branding and advertising circles have begun to pick up on this. Mark Ritson of Melbourne Business School in Australia wrote a brilliant article on how the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) are managing to achieve the opposite of what they want the Olympics to be about. The oppressive brand policing has reached the stage of comedy. The thought of people going around the toilets tippexing out the name of the bog-seat manufacturer on each seat because they are not the official bog seat manufacturer for the Olympics is laughable – and Seb Coe and friends are making themselves look like a laughing stock.

I’m not going to pretend it’s an easy balance to strike. The Jubilee celebrations over the weekend give an insight into what happens if you don’t take some steps to protect the image of events. (Have a look at Stavvers’ blogpost on this – I’m guessing that LOCOG have not signed away the rights to the official OlympicsVajazzle, but there’s still time!) But surely organisers of such events can differentiate between someone knitting some things for an event versus a large firm saying “This event is coming up! Be part of it and buy our stuff!” (Or as in the case of some mens’ magazines, “Ladies, this event is coming up! Forget to put on your clothes in front of our cameras!”)

I hope our Olympians do well in the games – if anything it’ll be nice to see some other sports getting some publicity. But if you do win any medals, please don’t do cheesy adverts along the lines of: “Hi! I won a medal! That means you can trust me when it comes to recommending which cereal to eat/which car insurance to buy!” No. It means you are world class at your sport. Stick to what you know and leave cereal recommendations to the dieticians.


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