London Olympics 2012: A Branding Success Or Total Eyesore?

Upon it’s launch in June 2007, the Olympics 2012 logo was blowing up the blogosphere.  However, after a recent trip to London where the design has become a part of the city backdrop, I thought it appropriate to address this controversial design and its application 5 years on.

I always spend a good part of the holiday season in England and Wales navigating through the santa-clad, garland-strewn, over-lit streets. This year, however, there was a slightly different vibe.  Stealing the show from the customary tinsel and its counterparts was a new brand….the London 2012 Olympics brand.

The identity, which was created by Wolff Olins, was launched to much criticism by the media, design experts and the community at large.  Wolff Olins describes the identity as “unconventionally bold, deliberately spirited and unexpectedly dissonant, echoing London’s qualities of a modern, edgy city.”  And that it is.
It’s vibrancy can’t be missed.  The question here is does it aptly depict the vibe of London itself, and is this a successful branding exercise?

The logo itself is controversial and certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but it reflects the time period and conveys some of the energy, movement, diversity, associated with the Olympics and the way it brings the world together.  If you look at design trends over the past 5 years since this was unveiled,  you’ll notice this is at the forefront.  We see this angular, geometric, bright visual vocabulary that has become prolific in the last few years, which makes it slightly trend driven, but nevertheless, relevant.

What is remarkable about this logo is it’s breakaway from conventional Olympic designs.  Few Olympic Games identities have been truly iconic, and this is certainly one of them.  When you look back over the past 50+ years, since early Olympic logos were just city seals, there are a few that stand out as “ground-breaking” and in line with the aesthetics of the time. Squaw Valley in 1960 introduces a much more abstract approach. Mexico in 1968 is one of the best Olympic logos ever, in our opinion. And the supporting graphics and design from that event are gorgeous and inspiring. Munich in 1972 is visually stunning and clearly referencing the op art movement from that time.




And 2012 breaks the mold in the same fashion.  As a branding exercise, it is certainly successful.  Everyone has been talking about it, whether they like it or not.  The highly recognizable shapes and vibrant color palette are memorable, the typeface is completely unique and ownable and its usage is scalable which is exemplified by sponsors’ cobranded collateral.


The unexpected and vibrant design is excellent for brand recall and association with the games.   This is a great example or something being sufficiently branded and successful without being an expected representation.


Does this appropriately depict London?  In our opinion, yes and no.  London is known the world-over for its second-to-none design and branding concepts, and that is reflected here.  British creatives are some of the best in world. But it’s the idea of the “dissonance” that we are in love with!  A city that is generally perceived as drab (it rains all the time!) and somewhat steeped in tradition would be rocked by a self-portrait such as this one.  But that is what makes it great.  In our opinion the identity takes these jarring shapes and fits them cohesively together with an unmistakable “look at me attitude.”  It’s a perfect representation of the games because of its allusion to the comingling of different nations, cultures, attitudes, on this momentous world stage.  It’s a bold logo with a big job to do.  And though it may not be “beautiful,” it is an unmistakable branding success story in our eyes.

Big props to Wolff Olins, but I’m pretty sure they know they’re great ; )

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