The London Olympic Games organizing committee unveiled their new mascots Wenlock and Mandeville Wednesday. Kiddies loved them, adults scratched their heads and the interwebs went nuts. Again.
In this era of internet freakouts and Twitter Storms, seems there’s not a brand related rollout that doesn’t ignite one. Especially when it comes to Olympic branding rollouts. Particularly when it comes to the 2012 London version. Continuing with that trend, the internet was awash with criticism and derision, shortly after the London 2012 mascots were introduced Wednesday. The mascot flap seems to be continuing the pattern started by the 2012 London Olympics logo unveiling, which ignited it’s own internet firestorm almost three years ago. When the graffiti-like brand (designed by Wolff Olins at a reported cost of £400,000) was introduced, the design was derided by anyone with an internet connection. Organizers argued that the logo was “supremely adaptable and perfect for the digital age.” Fair enough. Though their case wasn’t helped when it was discovered that an introductory animation, supposed to explain how brilliant everything was, had the potential to trigger epileptic seizures. Schadenfreude aplenty that design blogs had a field day with. But back to the London Olympic mascots, that in my humble opinion, owe a little to B.O.B. from Monsters vs. Aliens (left above) or Kang and Kodos, two alien characers from The Simpsons (sorry, couldn’t help myself).
Still stinging over the shellacking they took over the event brand price tag of 400 grand (though that wasn’t just the logo itself) organizers were hesitant to give an exact figure on the development cost of Wenlock and Mandeville by London-based design agency Iris, saying only that it was “a few thousand pounds” with large parts of the work being done “in house” and with the assistance of corporate sponsors.
The design and accoutrements of the mascots aren’t arbitrary, but chock full of symbolism. Mandeville features a London taxi light, and Wenlock sports Olympic rings for bracelets. The name Wenlock comes from the town of Much Wenlock, supposedly where Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Olympics, first thought about modernizing The Games.
Stoke Mandeville is the hospital that inspired the Paralympics games. The odd characters are from a children’s story by Michael Morpurgo, called Out of a Rainbow, which tells how they were crafted from bits of steel from an Olympic Stadium, and brought to life by the beams of a rainbow (the colors of the Olympic rings). Typical Olympic mascot stuff. Also typical was the criticism of the mascots, which was fast, furious and plentiful.
According to the online edition of The Telegraph, Stephen Bayley, a prominent design critic, is on record as saying:
“What is it about these Games which seems to drive the organisers into the embrace of this kind of patronizing, cretinous infantilism? Why can’t we have something that makes us sing with pride, instead of these appalling computerized Smurfs for the iPhone generation?”
Aaron Shields, a partner at the design agency BrandInstict, had this to say:
“I don’t think people are going to relate to these very modern creations. The first rule of mascot creation is to make something familiar and accessible, not something alien. This is just going to be seen as another disappointment coming out of the Olympic games.”
Design and graphic blogs were less diplomatic, referring to “backwards assless chaps” worn by one of the characters, and a ‘huge package’ that one of the characters seemed to sport. Others opined that the characters were some sort of bizarre reincarnation of the Teletubbies.
Ad Age published a piece that outlined how folks on Twitter had reacted with horror. The comments posted there weren’t much kinder either. A quick poll found that only half of marketing professionals quizzed even liked the new characters, with 22% describing them as ‘dreadful’, 12% saying they were ‘very poor. On the plus side, 16% opined that the mascots were ‘very good’ and 8% gave them a thumbs-up ‘Excellent’ rating. Well, you get the idea.
Canada gets the last laugh?
Meanwhile, Canadian Winter Olympic fans, obviously still smarting over the criticism the Vancouver Winter Games received in the UK press, had a field day mocking the London mascots, comparing them to the furry critters that represented the Canadian event earlier this year. The Globe and Mail got into the action with an article entitled Canada gets last laugh with terrifying Brit Olympic mascots. Nice sentiment, but Canadians shouldn’t be too smug methinks.
The Canadian mascot rollout didn’t go so smoothly either, when a prank blog photo of Quatchi (the sasquatch), Miga (the sea bear) and Sumi (the animal spirit) ended up finding its way into the mainstream media. That photoshopped image also included Pedobear, a character used to mock pedophiles in online forums. The internet had quite a field day with that too. And if memory serves, not everyone was onboard with the 2010 WInter Olympics logo either. If anything, it’s the Russian Olympic organizing committee that should be sighing a relief. When they unveiled the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics logo, hardly anyone noticed. And those that did only commented that “at least it’s not 2012.”