After I sounded this rather sour note about the Olympic brand (as opposed to Olympic achievement by actual athletes), Scott Greenfield responded with a thoughtful post inquiring if I went too far and touching on the reasons the USOC needs money. This is a subject on which Scott is well informed.
I don't doubt that fielding Olympic teams — particularly across a diverse array of events — is very expensive. My point — expressed in somewhat crotchety fashion in that first post — was this: does the modern marketing of the Olympic brand detract from the institution of the Olympics more than it advances it?
You need money to run the Olympics, and paid sponsorships are money machines for everyone involved. But sponsorship carries distasteful elements, particularly when administered by tin-eared officials. That's how the London Organising Committee found itself backing down from an embarrassing and needlessly provocative decision to give McDonald's the exclusive right to sell chips (fries to you and me) in and around the Olympic venues — unless, of course, the chips were accompanied by fish. As "brand police" begin to wander the green and pleasant lands, more ridiculousness may ensue:
Olympics organisers have warned businesses that during London 2012 their advertising should not include a list of banned words, including "gold", "silver" and "bronze", "summer", "sponsors" and "London".
Publicans have been advised that blackboards advertising live TV coverage must not refer to beer brands or brewers without an Olympics deal, while caterers and restaurateurs have been told not to advertise dishes that could be construed as having an association with the event.
And it remains to be seen whether this Vanity Fair assertion will prove true:
Inside Olympic venues, spectators may not “wear clothes or accessories with commercial messages other than the manufacturers’ brand name.”
Previously I've criticized public-institution coziness with branding and the foolish behavior it causes. The Olympics themselves are not a government institution, but increasingly they can bend public institutions to their will. How will that reflect on the institutions, or on the Olympics?
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Hey London2012: I intend this to portray you in a derogatory and objectionable manner.