The latest draconian sponsorship enforcement measures for London 2012 were spread across the tabloids yesterday. Allegedly, the angelic schoolkids selected for Danny Boyle’s green and pleasant opening ceremony will be forced by sponsor Adidas to either wear their trainers, or trainers with no branding visible. Meanwhile, reports have come in of police guards forced to decant their lunches, airport style, into clear plastic bags to avoid inadvertently advertising rivals of food brand sponsors. Of course, it’s only confirmation of what we already know- the expectations of Olympic sponsors are a marketing cliché from a bygone era.
These measures were always going to be put in place. The main issue is that absolutely no hint of this level of sponsor control was seeded when the London Olympic story began. Nobody is asking for total, face-value stark facts right from the outset- or at least no-one who understands the realities of managing that kind of brand- but there are ways of spinning this. Most importantly, the idyllic Olympic Myth should not have swept its all too necessary corporate bogeymen totally out of the way in favour of flaxen-haired athletic and political heroes.
Frankly I can’t completely picture the stone faced corporate conspiracy drones imagined by the British population, transferring Walkers crisps into polythene tombs with horrifying robot efficiency. There’s likely a degree of media exaggeration in play here, but it’s worth noting that these memes of sponsor control are gradually escalating. These complaints run deep.
Nonetheless, the Olympic period will be something close to the party it was promised to be. Griping about the allowances given to sponsors is unlikely to detract from crowd atmosphere on the day, or at least it couldn’t do so by itself.
The problem will come when the all important evaluation of legacy and impact begins- whether that be September, December, or even next summer. A lack of transparency- or at least translucency- doesn’t suit the kind of messaging needed to manage something as extensive as London 2012, whose narrative continues right through to 2016, and doesn’t even end there, despite the baton being passed to Rio. Macdonald’s step back from the Olympic tax break was an understandable move, but it smacks of a brand on the back foot.
The wounded trust felt by the public may be set aside for a few crucial weeks, but it will undoubtedly creep back, spread overseas and create enormous problems for both national and international organisers when difficult questions begin to be asked more bluntly and much earlier.