How Not to Design an Olympic Mascot

REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Alright, I know that the bulk of the hysteria over the atrocious London 2012 Olympic mascots was some time ago, but I just have to get this out of my system.  If you’re not familiar with them by now, they go by the names “Wenlock” and “Mandeville”, after two British towns.  Apparently created “from the last two drops of British steel used for the London 2012 Olympic Stadium”, they are basically two lumps of metal vaguely shaped like chess pieces or something.  If you really want to know more about them, here’s their “About” page on the Olympic mascot site.

Backstory

Now, you’d think that a pair of Olympic mascots (especially ones as awkward as these) would have to have a pretty good story behind them to make them into loveable, huggable characters such as Miga or Quatchi (who admittedly don’t have the greatest backstory, but aren’t frightening to young children like these two are).  However, you’d be disappointed.

As this video from the mascot committee explains, Wenlock and Mandeville are two cold, dead lumps of steel carved and welded into small figurines by an old guy with an eerily large head.  They are then somehow brought to life by a magical rainbow.  After being zapped like politically correct clones of Frankenstein, they proceed to frolic around the room and somehow develop a deep, profound connection with the children in about 30 seconds.  Then, they suddenly decide to leave and run off on separate rainbows.

Huh?

Appearance

Photo by Julian Finney

As you can see, they both have the first letter of their name on their forehead, which is a good thing because otherwise nobody would be able to tell them apart.  Other than the letter, the only differentiating details between them are a slightly different eye and head shape, and different colourings.  Also, Mandeville appears to have wet himself.

The lettering on their heads apparently represents the signs in London taxis.  While this makes sense, the rest of the symbology is not as obvious.  For example, their eyes are apparently shaped like camera lenses, to allow them to “examine and record the experiences” they have on their journey through the UK.  I found the gigantic eye creepy enough before I knew it would be recording everything I did.  Then again, with the proliferation of CCTV security cameras in the UK, perhaps it is a fitting metaphor.   These mascots may go over well with young children, but the majority of people who are watching the games will be less than impressed with what they see.

Design

Wenlock and Mandeville are perfect examples of what NOT to do when developing a mascot, character, or pretty much anything meant for the public eye.

1) DONT try to please everyone.  By not picking a specific audience and instead trying to incorporate a bit of everything that popped into the creative designer’s brain at the moment, these mascots became the vaguely-defined lumps of metal and/or plastic that we will be seeing on TV in about two years. Ugh.

2) Make sure you use a test audience.  A piece of work, no matter how good you think it is, could always use a second opinion.  It could be a focus group, your coworkers, a friend, your mom, or even your dog (well, maybe not).  Judging by their generally negative worldwide reception, not enough testing and tweaking of the characters occurred.  Had more time been taken to refine these mascots and had they not only targeted young children, the mascots might not have turned out looking like mutant chess pieces.

All in all, the London 2012 mascots are quite a miserable waste of marketing dollars.  The only group they generally appeal to are young children (and even then, most of them are probably scared of THE EYE).

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