Doing a Henchard

I must say I am thoroughly enjoying the massive public response to the 2012 Olympic Logo. What a well-deserved pushback to the ludicrous hype with which the thing was launched. What a heartening demonstration that the great British public has a brain and isn’t going to swallow whole the spin and hype of the branding browntongues.

What really provoked me was not so much the logo itself as the organisers’ smug predictions of what it was going to do for the games and what it was going to mean. I found especially laughable the notion that this would appeal to young people. How patronising is that?

It’s great that everyone now has access to technology so that a plephora of alternative designs are being put up. The Sun even has an entry drawn by a monkey, which is a cheap shot I know but makes me laugh out loud.

There’s a marvellous scene in an old BBC adaptation of The Mayor of Casterbridge. The doomed antihero organises a lavish party for the folk of the town in an effort to glamorise himself. But it pours with rain and no-one shows up for this rich but soulless party. Meanwhile his rival organises a rough and ready dance in a barn where everyone has a great time in each other’s company, with none of the grand expense. Henchard eventually arrives at the barn but can’t really conceal his bitterness and dismay at everyone having so much fun.

Wouldn’t it be great if Seb Coe had the humility to admit to a mistake and really embrace the public’s creativity and exuberant irrerverance. But more likely he’ll do a Henchard, taking cover like the kid who won’t play nicely and justifies his temper by yelling “It’s my ball”. Or maybe he’ll take the last refuge of the branding expert, waffling on about how he’s got our attention which is what he really wanted to do.

In doing so, he’ll probably be listening to the likes of Michael Wolff, cofounder of the firm, Wolff Olins, who designed the thing. (Clarification: Wolff doesn’t work there now and he didn’t do the logo himself.) Here’s what Mr Wolff has to say: “When something is so swingingly attacked as the 2012 logo has been, it tells you more about the people doing the attacking, and their taste, than about the design in question…Prejudice is comfortable and lazy…I think this petulant reaction will subside and pride will take its place.” A textbook case of projection, in which the patient condemns in others the exact qualities he can’t take responsibility for in himself. Mr Wolff, in the great tradition of logo salesmen, really does think he’s cleverer than the rest of us.

I think some of the reaction is about our ambivalence about the Olympics themselves, which have a long track record of combining grandiose talk about the human spirit with some really serious fat cattery. There’s a real shadow side to the Olympics, and chucking £400k at Wolff Olins sounds very much in that tradition.

It has to go down as a bit of a black mark for Edelmans who did the PR for this launch that they so badly misjudged the public mood. They’re trying to position themselves as leaders in social media but this isn’t the first time they’ve been parties to a bit of Marketing 1.0 nonsense.

7 thoughts on “Doing a Henchard

  1. rik

    It just occurred to me that £400.000 is, in the unlikely event that logo designers get paid £200/h, equal to 2000 hours of work. two thousand. 50 full time weeks. I think mr. Wolff should be rather ashamed of himself taking that long to come up with this ‘thing’.

    Reply
  2. Fredd Kambo

    Something that struck me is that this logo reportedly took one year to agree. Which of course means “a committee” somwhere went at it with their daggers for a year until it was completely dead.

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  3. Mark McGuinness

    Great post, Johnny.

    2 thoughts come out closely connected:

    – the fact that most “creative work” isn’t difficult to appreciate or understand; it’s just not very good. But nobody is allowed to say this because once it gets some support, it serves a social function inside the team creating and buying it…

    – the fact that the whole “branding & ID” business is rooted in another era (when we could still pretend we could tell people what to do/think/feel)…like Levi’s and Soho…

    Keep going, there’s more in here…

    —–

    Excellent – I love the phrase “Doing a Henchard”. Come to think of it Henchard kick-started his business career by getting drunk and selling his wife – I never realised the Mayor of Casterbridge was such a cornucopia of marketing analogies.

    Reply

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