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Terrence Burns | When is a slogan a vision?

Terrence Burns

It is the Olympic year 2020, and as Tokyo rushes to get ready for the greatest show on earth in just a few months’ time, I am reminded of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid (disclaimer: I worked for Madrid 2020) and its slogan, ‘Discover Tomorrow’, which at first I thought was a recycled slogan from a previous World’s Fair or Disneyland. Having said that, Tokyo won.

Most (not all) Olympic bids of the past did everything they could to differentiate from each other, even when their differences seemed only skin deep. My take on a bid slogan is that if it can be dropped into another bid’s logo, and still make sense, it doesn’t work.

There were many in this category: “Dream Together”, “Live Your Passion”, “Uniting our Worlds”, “Let Friendship Shine”, “The Friendly Games”, “Games with the Human Touch” – I could go on and on. It’s wallpaper.

It’s easiest to write about the bids and slogans I worked on.

Some Olympic bids had great, highly differentiated slogans that said a lot in a few words. Almaty 2022’s (a former client) “Keeping it Real” was a not-so-veiled counter positioning against Beijing 2022’s seemingly virtual Winter Games bid.

My favorite reference for Almaty 2022’s positioning was a remark by IOC member Dick Pound. “It looks to me like they figured out all of the weaknesses of the competitors and they just nailed the differences – snow, water, air, experience,” he said. Beijing won.

PyeongChang 2018’s (a former client) “New Horizons” was a clear counterpoint to Munich 2018’s classic European approach. Vancouver 2010’s (a former client) “Sea to Sky Games” was a functional slogan that captured the unique geography of the city and its mountain cluster.

Some of my slogans weren’t very good – Moscow 2012’s “Imagine it Now” is one I rarely tout as a shining example of my work. Nor was “Inspiring Change” for Doha 2016. I did like “Made in Sweden” for Stockholm-Åre 2026 – it reflected the power of Brand Sweden and the values we felt were important to the IOC at a crucial time – trust, fairness, and competence. Stockholm-Åre 2026 lost to Italy.

One of my favorite bids to work on, and one I did not think would be, was Los Angeles 2024/2028. I say I did not think it would be because after many, many years working on bids all around the world, I had not worked on an American bid. I watched the New York 2012 and Chicago 2016 bid campaigns, and I felt the USA! USA! messaging was too overt when trying not to be, simplistic, and not little tone deaf. If you are interested in how I finally ended up at LA2028, have a read here. It is a fascinating look at history because Olympic bidding has changed forever.

One of the challenges with LA was that there was so much to work with. Early on I recall asking chairman Casey Wasserman about his vision for the Games. His answer was simple, he said, “I want the 2024 Games to be as transformational for the Olympic Movement as the 1984 LA Games were.” That’s a big idea, a big vision, and one any marketer can sink his or her teeth into.

The LA 2024/2028 slogan was “Follow the Sun”. It wasn’t an invitation; it was a challenge to the movement to embrace change and the future.

I also liked Paris 2024’s slogan (and their logo) “Made for Sharing.” I thought it was a clever update, using a social media context, of the tried and true Olympic concept of “shared dreams”. Unfortunately, The Académie Française, official custodian Pierre de Coubertin’s native language said the Paris 2024 slogan was no better than a pizza advert because, wait for it – it was in English. Paris won the right to host the 2024 Olympic Games, so I think their slogan was fine.

The trick is continuity. The vision and dreams expressed by a winning bid city are essentially accepted by the IOC in its selection of the city. Yet often, there is substantial and immense change in the leadership of a bid and the leadership of the Games. And inevitably, something always gets lost in translation.

The IOC’s last bid city selection process (somewhat) under the old format was for 2026. The “two left standing” candidate cities were encouraged to enunciate clear and compelling visions. Yet, by the time of the vote in Lausanne in June 2019, the messaging, speeches, key talking points for each bid were very similar. At that point, Olympic politics came into play and no one does that better than the Italians. Well played, Milan-Cortina.

It is interesting to compare the slogans and visions of bid cities with the slogans and visions of the subsequent Organizing Committees. Bid cities are naïve, idealistic, optimists by nature (which is why I loved working with them). OCOGs by definition have passed the “vision test” and are motivated by functional reality – get the city ready for the Games. So, it is not unusual for the verve, vibe, and even the vision of the bid to adjust – sometimes dramatically – to something wholly different for the OCOG.

The beauty of the old process was that every city I ever worked for truly believed they could win. When confronted with the reality that no one in the world seemed to know where Almaty was, its then-mayor, Akhmetzhan Yessimov said: “None of this concerns us, we want to win”. He continued, “Once you say you are a mushroom, you might as well get into the soup.”

A great soup is the combination of many different flavors adding up to something more wonderful than its sum of parts. Just like the Olympics.

Here’s to the lowly mushroom, harbinger of many Olympic dreams.

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