By Ian Webster
So London 2012 is over. Seven years of anticipation and 16 days of sporting excellence are behind us. ‘Team GB’ delivered for their nation but now the British Government is left clutching a bill for the world’s most extravagant party (estimated at $18 billion). But the critical question as to whether London 2012delivered sufficient Return on Investment cannot be answered just yet; indeed it might take a decade’s time, by say, 2022 that a full appraisal can really be provided.
We look at what London 2012 did right from a branding perspective and highlights areas worth referencing as Qatar’s countdown to the 2022 FIFA World Cup continues. The points highlighted here are not only relevant to sporting events and are directly applicable to any corporation striving to join the global elite.
Develop a focused strategy
London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics was largely successful due to a simple, but ambitious central idea that drove its strategy: the desire to ‘inspire a generation’.
The strategy recognised sport’s potential to be a catalyst for positive societal change and focused on establishing a legacy based around increased youth participation in sport.
London had a clear sense right from the start that winning the Olympics was about more than 16 days of jumping and running around in the sun (and rain). The strategy focused on ensuring that an Olympic legacy was created; something much bigger than the event itself.
This ‘legacy strategy’ has social inclusion, community, urban development, tourism related and, of course, economic objectives attached to it and the long-term evaluation of the Game’s success will consider all these aspects.
Engage all stakeholders before, during and after the event
London 2012’s delivery of the legacy strategy will depend on all the major stakeholders being aligned. The most brilliant strategy in the world will fall flat on its face if the project’s key stakeholders are not consulted and committed. Getting stakeholders (government departments and sporting bodies, sponsors, media and the general public) to support and invest in the strategy in the years ahead will be critical.
London’s work in delivering a ‘legacy strategy’ starts now and it will need to focus on strengthening links between the organisations involved in the funding, administration and delivery of sport including schools and grassroots community clubs.
Ensure your brand evolves directly from your strategy
London 2012’s logo and design language was bright, bold, confident and identifiable. It was as far away from classic Olympic imagery of elitist laurel wreathes as was possible.
The logo was designed to appeal to the youth and was supported by a vibrant design language which was flexible enough to be applied to every brand touch point from signage to digital applications to the athlete’s vests.
Like most great creative works, the London 2012 brand was not universally liked and it received much criticism on its unveiling; this was a logo that challenged the conventions of what an Olympic city’s logo should look like and would have been killed off by a less confident and focused client.
London 2012’s brand reminds us that the best brands are created on the back of a focused strategy and are designed to be compelling, to be bold, to be different, and to stand out. Rio 2016’s brand will do well to convey as much spirit as London 2012 has done so effectively (as will Qatar 2022’s brand).
Engaging world-class creative
A brand is, of course, so much more than a logo or a badge. The best brands contain stories that inform, inspire and reward its devotees. With the London Olympics it was vital to identify and highlight the elements that made the city and the country different to others.
The Olympics provided London (and Britain) the opportunity to redefine and reposition itself to both its own people and to prospective global consumers.
As well as having a focused strategy and a bold brand, London 2012 recognised the role that the small details can add to the consumer experience. The playing of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ whenever Team GB won a gold medal, for example, will live in the memory of many who attended the games; demonstration that attention to detail can help deliver engaging and memorable brand experiences.
This brings me to my favourite part of the London Games - the Opening Ceremony.
Firstly, how did a country in the midst of one of the worst ever economic recessions justify spending tens of millions on an Opening Ceremony?
Quite simply ‘Brand London/Britain’ recognised that it had a unique opportunity to engage with the world, a once-in-a-lifetime platform that most other brands could only dream of. In line with its brand personality and strategy, London 2012 eschewed the ordinary, the inflated and the artistically pretentious with an Opening Ceremony that was a ninety minute advert to the world; crammed full of the diverse components that make up Brand London/Britain and demonstrating what it stands for.
The result was a brand spectacle entitled the ‘The Isles of Wonder’ which repositioned a small, wet, North Atlantic island whose best days were considered by many as being behind it as a diverse, vibrant country full of imagination and bursting with culture worth celebrating.
Director Danny Boyle’s eclectic, witty yet populist interpretation of the brief to ‘create a 90 minuteevent that promotes London and Britain’ was an inspiration to any creative talent to ‘aspire to greatness’ rather than just meeting the brief.
Boyle’s opening ceremony was compulsive viewing, demanding the global audiences’ full attention for the ninety minutes. It was entertainment for the attention-deficit generation and was crammed full of content, effortlessly fusing classic and contemporary components of Brand London/Britain into an imaginative narrative. Full of splendour, emotion and vigour, we saw the Suffragettes, The Beatles, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Harry Potter, James Bond, The Queen, the National Health Service, East London’s ‘grime scene’ and other constituents celebrated.
The Closing Ceremony brought more spectacles and referenced some of Brand London and Britain’s key attributes but suffered in comparison to the Opening Ceremony by virtue of the first event’s surprise factor, stronger narrative and wit.
Be prepared and be open
Whenever a client goes beyond the conventional, they take on risks that could harm a brand.
Live events are the more difficult aspect of the marketing mix to control, and, while London 2012 suffered a few organisational issues, it effectively managed issues through its extensive preparation, and, when that failed, with openness and honesty; as any organisation should.
Ultimately the London 2012 brand was strong enough to ensure that the security concerns, traffic concerns, weather concerns, ticket allocation issues, overly zealous brand police and a clumsy oversight concerning the flags of the Korean Peninsula were all hurdles that the brand was able to overcome without much reputational damage.
Set clear performance criteria
Both 2012 and 2022 can only ultimately be deemed a success if they inspire a generation to embrace sport in their lives. Perhaps it will only be by 2022 that we are able to properly assess whether London 2012 fulfilled its strategy to ‘inspire a generation’ as the event’s success will not simply be measured by Team GB’s placing on the medals table after 16 days of sport.
The years ahead will determine whether London 2012 has benefitted tourism in the way that perhaps only Barcelona 1992 has managed to capitalise on; effectively repositioning itself from an investment-deprived port city to one of the world’s most inspiring cities.
The physical infrastructure development meanwhile will benefit the local economy and the build-up to the Games witnessed development on a scale not seen in East London since Thatcher’s Government (controversially) facilitated the development of Canary Wharf in the 1980’s.
The initial success of the Games (and the huge investment in infrastructure) is excellent news for investors in London including Qatari Diar, who will soon begin the task of transforming the athlete’s Olympic Village into East Village. The Games will certainly further enhance London’s profile as an international investment opportunity.
It goes without saying that both brands and events like 2012 and 2022 have to deliver tangible Return on Investment to be considered a success in the long term.
So what does this mean for Qatar 2022?
Qatar’s challenge is to ensure that Qatar (and the broader Arab World) is a winner before, during and after World Cup 2022.
Qatar 2022’s legacy, like London 2012, needs to be about so much more than eye-catching stadia. Indeed, after the success of London 2012, Qatar’s decision to focus on building mainly temporary stadia now looks like a shrewd, sustainable alternative to the old school thinking that blighted cities with concrete white elephants.
As with London 2012, Qatar has an opportunity to tell the world what it is that ‘Brand Qatar’ stands for. The world’s perception of both the tiny Gulf State and perhaps even the other 21 countries of the Arab World should be positively changed for ever. Qatar 2022 will be a party, a celebration that will bring the people of the world together. While some will understandably harbour concerns about their society being opened up to the global community with the arrival of the World-Cup masses, 2022 provides a unique opportunity to celebrate Qatari and Arab culture with the world and should act as a catalyst to promote and strengthen (rather than threaten) local traditions.
The development of Qatar’s sporting infrastructure should support the emergence of a new generation of heroes to build on the talent and hard work of Mutaz Essa Barshim and Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah at London 2012. Qatar’s National Sports Day initiative also demonstrates Qatar’s intention to strengthen the role that sport plays in society and is recognition of the role that sport can play in improving a nation’s health and happiness and that, more than anything else, surely justifies the investment in events like 2012 and 2022.
Iain Webster is Executive Director Qatar at The Brand Union Middle East.