Olympic logo: messy racist irrelevance?
Thu Aug 9, 2012 8:22AM
If you take the rings away it doesn’t really capture London or the Olympics. If you take away the word London, it could be used for anywhere." Brendan Martin, Branding & design consultantThe London Olympics logo, as well as its designer, has been at the center of controversy since its creation and not the least for the fact that it keeps reminding people of the racial imagery of Nazi Germany or of Zionism rather than British culture or history. Iran said a few months ago that the logo design spells out the word “Zion” (biblical term for Bait-ul-Muqaddas) that is the perceived promise land in the Bible and the basis upon which Zionists justify their illegal occupation of the Palestinian lands. The country sent a letter to president of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge in which it threatened to boycott the Games over the “revolting” politicized logo. The move came as internet users started seeing “Zion” in the logo almost immediately after its launch. Iran’s objection is the latest in a long list of controversies that the logo has triggered since it was unveiled in 2007. The London Games organizing committee was forced to withdraw an animation based on the logo back in June 2007 after it was found dangerous for viewers with photosensitive epilepsy. The Britain-based charity Epilepsy Action said the animated logo put 23,000 mainly young people at risk of seizures triggered by flickering images after 12 people were reported to have collapsed after looking at the animation. Epilepsy Action estimated the organizing committee would face a massive injury lawsuit from 2.5 million people with the condition worldwide if nothing was done while the then London mayor Ken Livingstone described the logo as a car that kills you. “If you employ someone to design a car and it kills you, you’re pretty unhappy about that. If you employ someone to design a logo for you and they haven’t done a basis health check you have to ask what they do for their money,” Livingstone said. Just two days after the Games logo was launched, there were widespread speculations that it represented the Nazi sign of swastika with some bloggers even raising questions that the designer was a Neo-Nazi as the logo appeared to have been deliberately turned to be more square than diamond. The BBC even said it had a phone call from a Jewish person who said the design was reminiscent of the swastika. There were also objections that the logo showed two characters from animated series “The Simpsons” in a sexual act. The story did not end at that for the controversial logo that cost £400,000 and took a year to design. By the end of June when the logo was launched, the BBC website had received 3,300 complaint messages that said the emblem was questionable. The logo also took a critical mauling from designers and branding experts. A Brand Forensics director Jonathan Gaby said the logo failed to capture the essence of London by its openly “abstract nature.” An Identica Branding & Design consultant Brendan Martin further highlighted that problem saying the logo is irrelevant in branding terms. “If you take the rings away it doesn’t really capture London or the Olympics. If you take away the word London, it could be used for anywhere,” he said. Wolff Olins, the company that designed the symbol, is also no stranger to controversy. British communications giant BT wasted millions of pounds on Wolff Olins design of the “piper” logo, which proved so unpopular that BT had to drop it 12 years later. BT said it is going to revamp its image and ditch the piper-logo in March 2003 after a failed rebranding attempt when BT changed its name from British Telecom in 1991. Another embarrassment came when public unions Nalgo, Nupe and Cohse merged to form a single union. Wolff Olins spent £65,000 to come up with the name Unison that was earlier proposed by the unions’ members in an internal competition. However, the company’s Olympic logo embarrassment would be probably its worst hit considering the scale of opposition it attracted. Back in 2007, a petition calling for removal of the emblem as the logo of the Games gained 50,000 signatures. The LogoBlog registered the huge backlash in the intensity seen in the website visitors’ comments on the logo. A communication designer Hitesh Mehta ironically wrote “My first and last impressions on this logo were: First Impression: is this a logo? Last Impression: is this a logo?” Other commentators described the emblem as “a million-dollar junk”, an ugly “mess” and “highly outdated and unimaginative.” At the time, Jonathan Ellis, who launched the petition on the website GoPetition.com called on organizers to either replace the logo with a new one or with the old design they used for London’s bid to host the Games. “It is an embarrassment and portrays our country in the worst possible way,” he said. However, all the response the whole army of designers, experts and the public received was insistence of organizers to stick with the logo. London organizing committee boss Lord Sebastian Coe said the logo “won’t be to everybody’s taste immediately, but it’s a brand we believe can be hard working.” His comments back in 2007 were not backed by poll findings. An Ipsos MORI research in June that year showed 49 percent of Britons “strongly disapprove” of the logo and 19 percent “tend to disapprove” while only 4 percent said they “strongly approve” of the emblem. AMR/HE