The Ugly Duckling Logo

The Ugly-Duckling Logo

Branding, like many things in life, is about confidence and courage, qualities we saw time and time again in the London 2012 Olympics. Who was not moved by scene after scene of triumph and despair? Many an evening I sat mesmerised and teary-eyed as competitors’ dreams took flight or turned to dust.

Most people agree that London 2012 was an overwhelming success. But what made it so? It was of course the athletes, the volunteers, the organisers and, I would argue, the brand. The brand was about being different. It would have been easy to look back on Great Britain’s history and heritage and build a clichéd brand around that. But that would have been a mistake. Of course good brands do look back and tell stories about their founding, their struggles and their triumphs. Just look at Innocent and Dyson. But London 2012 had to be about a modern country which had history, but which was also looking to the future.

London 2012 was meant to engage the whole country. Like all good brands London 2012 was about action and participation. The torch travelled the highways and byways of Britain to rapturous applause for the local heroes who carried it. The Post Office painted pillar boxes gold in the home towns of winning Olympians and Paralympians. Whole communities gathered in pubs and clubs to cheer their Jess or their Bradley to gold. Yes, London 2012 inspired people and democratised sport.

But it wasn’t an easy journey. Let’s rewind to 2007 when the controversial logo was first unveiled. Few loved it. Many actively hated it. It was radical, almost shocking. But it was only a symbol of a much bigger idea. The idea of a modern Britain that welcomed the new, that welcomed diversity, that didn’t take itself too seriously. In short a modern Britain that was comfortable with itself. A confident Britain.

Some people hated it because it looked like graffiti and was therefore subversive and low culture. Yet graffiti is now becoming mainstream – just look at Banksy and the French graffiti artist Reka who paints her art on the walls of Paris and abandoned chateaux.

And that takes us back to courage and confidence. The Wolff Olins team behind the London 2012 brand had the courage and confidence to put forward an idea that encapsulated modern Britain. The organising committee had the courage and confidence to buy into the idea and run with it.

Logos are only one part of brands, albeit a very up-front and visible one. But when we look at London 2012 as a whole we can see that it traces its DNA back to that ugly duckling of a logo. The thinking behind London 2012, so well encapsulated in that logo, allowed the organisers the freedom to be more radical. It set the tone for Danny Boyle’s joyous opening ceremony and much of what followed. Yes, London 2012 could be different.

Branding is not about asking people what they want or about winning beauty parades. It’s about having that big idea, believing in it and bringing others with you. London 2012 did just that.

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