Hosting an Olympic Games once meant following well-trodden templates, but London 2012 promised participation and legacy. Working alongside the organisers, we helped set the tone for a Games like never before.
The committees that organise Olympic Games had for many years seen the event primarily as an opportunity to put their city on the map. London, however, was already enjoying its status as a top-tier global city and didn’t need to shout so hard.
Instead, this Games was an opportunity to do things differently. If there was to be a legacy, it had to reach beyond the event. For the Games to find this level of meaning, it would need the support of more than a logo. It would need a brand: 2012.
Despite their grandeur, the Games of the past had been a stage for elite athletes to perform incredible feats, watched over by a narrow audience. All very impressive, but to achieve widespread participation, 2012 had to motivate ordinary people. It had to be ‘Everyone’s Olympics’.
Beyond this, the real potential was in the values and actions the athletes’ feats could inspire in the rest of us. We needed to create a movement of people doing their best in life: ‘Everyone Olympic’.
We combined the two sides of the strategy into a single brand idea: ‘Like never before’. This captured the intent for 2012 to break the Olympic mould, while inspiring people to stretch themselves in every sense.
It was critical that 2012 engage young people. Sport in UK schools had been falling and here was a chance to create a force that could reverse that trend. We arranged discussion groups with school children and adolescents, who told us that 2012 needed to bring the Olympics off the pedestal and onto the street.
The brand needed to express this. We developed the energy line grid from which the logo was built. It was bold, spirited and dissonant, reflecting London’s modern, urban edge. In line with the legacy objective, it carried neither sporting nor landmark images.
A major feature of the 2012 brand was its flexibility. Where past Olympic logos had been very rigid, 2012 allowed other affiliated parties to make it their own.
The logo could be populated with sporting imagery, providing a way to showcase the content of the Games, or the colours of sponsors, such as the black and white of Adidas.
The rings, tightly controlled by the IOC, were embedded within rather than outside the logo – something that had been done only once before, at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. This meant that if an organisation didn’t have permission to use them, they could simply be dropped.
2012 had a flexible expression that could belong to everyone, but the Games needed to put ‘everyone’s’ at the core of the experience.
Until now the Paralympics had been a whispered echo of the main event. Now, on our recommendation, the two were treated as equals, with the same sponsors and their own variants of a single, shared logo. The Cultural Olympiad, separated from its sporting cousin since 1948, would also run alongside the Games.
To inspire the whole country, the Olympic torch travelled throughout the UK. In a move that became known as ‘PIF’ (People In Front), the seats closest to the action at every event were reserved for the public. Sponsors and other delegates were – unusually for occasions of this stature – seated higher up in the stands.
In the summer of 2012 London delivered a breathtaking Games that, for a few heady weeks, was all-consuming. While its success can’t be credited to any one factor, it was apparent that the 2012 brand helped set a special tone and atmosphere.
The UK saw huge levels of participation. All in all, an estimated six million people got involved in events, at schools and in the streets, up and down the land. Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace & Gromit, made a film with Tate that actively engaged 35,000 children in its production.
The 2012 logo, so controversial at launch, twinkled from screen to arena. In line with the original post-nationalistic intention, it quite literally carried the flag of every nation in the world. It was an inclusive brand in virtually every way.
Initially so maligned, the brand stood the test. The words of the original manifesto were heard many times, as key figures reiterated that this was an event for everyone, like never before. This was demonstrated most brilliantly during the Paralympics, where old notions of ‘normal’ were cast aside.
A BBC Radio 5 live poll found that the Games inspired one in five people in the UK to go and play sport. And if there can be one lasting legacy, it will hopefully be that future events build on the idea that Olympic values are truly for everyone.