Awhile back, I wrote about how a London branding agency, Wolff Olins, duped a bunch of cutting-edge-abee Russian companies (BeeLine, MTS, Alfa Bank) into paying nearly one million dollars for a questionable re-branding campaign. You might recall MTS' recent egg themed re-launch, now known as the laughingstock of the rebranding craze. Well, that was Wolff Olins. While this issue's Reklama Review isn't necessarily Russo-centric in its theme, it definitely reinforces the old Russian adage, "u nas ne khuzhe," which means "we're no worse than anyone else." It seems that Wolff Olins' self-aggrandizing and charlatanism has hit new plateaus (or lows, depending on how you see it), only this time on their home turf: London.
Last week, the London Olympic Committee unveiled its new logo for the 2012 Olympics. For those who haven't seen this, you can find it at www.london2012.com. This was Wolff Olins' work. It cost the city of London about GBP 400,000 to have produced, or about $800,000. The public's reaction has somewhere between dismissive and violently offended. For the most part, the objection has been to the logo itself, which looks like something found on a mid-1980's t-shirt purchased in a cheap Florida tourist shop. As much as this logo's been panned in public and private forums, the only way to truly appreciate it is to check it out for yourself.
On some level, you have to hand it to Wolff Olins. Those boys truly know their shit. Bull-shit, that is. Unlike a Coca Cola, who have to, on a daily basis, convince millions and millions of people to actively run out, seek and buy their stuff from various merchants and vending machines, agencies only have to convince 2 3 people to buy their "product," once every 1 to 3 years per client. They do that, and the rest of their time is spent hunting for hair gel and plasma TVs.
A long time ago, I had a boss who let me in on a little secret of business. "Alex," he said. "Anyone can give product away. The trick is to sell it."
And boy, can Wolff Olins sell their product. However, and I called this one a while back, Wolff Olins ain't got shit to sell. What Wolff Olins offers is reassurance that if you pay a lot of money, that you as the marketing department or you as the CEO looking to please a shareholder committee or you as the Olympic Chairman can rest assured that any possible failure is not the result of your decisions, since you chose a reputable company, but rather the fault of Wolff Olins. If you pay up to a million dollars, then you can't be the one to blame for failure. Lame ideas can't possibly cost that much, right? Well, wrong. MTS was a perfect example of a laughably overpriced bad idea, but the London 2012 Games branding simply take the piss.
It seems that WO's PowerPoint presentation was so powerful that it now serves as the presentation offered to the public. If you visit the London2012 website, there's a section there called "About The New Brand."
Are these people fucking kidding me? A new brand?! We're talking about the Olympics here! Somehow, WO managed to convince the Olympic committee that they weren't helping to promote one of the oldest international institutions. No. In fact, Wolff Olins convinced the Committee that they were creating a new brand. I can imagine the pitch now:
"By the time we're through with this brand launch, everyone will have heard of the Olympics."
Not only were they able to sell this idea, but the language on this consumer website is flat-out marketing speak. Calling the Olympics a "new brand," talking up logo treatment rules, even a brand essence video... These are things that are used by a marketing team to train its people for an ad campaign. No one ever reveals these to the consumer audience. Never. WO walked in, charmed the right people, and have hung their laurels out in public for the industry to gawk at.
I clicked on the brand essence video on the Olympics site. It's like a depressing Benetton-clearance-sale ad. The Olympics, according to WO's vision, are all about England's minority underclass, fat kids and senior citizens. The website is dotted with copy claiming that this new brand will bring in a younger audience. They've even superimposed the new logo on the back of a skateboard. I mean hey, how much more "youth" does it get than that. A skateboard. Kids like to skateboard these days, no? The only way to have made this less cool would be to have included a photo of some white dude wearing a sideways baseball cap and a giant clock around his neck.