How do you justify spending half a million pounds on a logo?
June 4, 2007 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand the marketing/branding industry. The 2012 London Olympics committee just spent £400,000 on this new logo. How does a branding company justify this kind of money to just design a logo? That can't be all there is to it, right? What kind of things actually get delivered and done on a project like this?
posted by chrismear to Work & Money (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Look at the name of the client, particularly the last word. No doubt there were huge numbers of iterations, along with plenty of public opinion research that was diligently studied before being ignored.
posted by Good Brain at 9:30 AM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

To understand the industry and the process, try reading through the archives at Brand New, where they take an (often harsh) look at companies' efforts to brand or re-brand themselves.
posted by mikeyk at 9:37 AM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

And I will be you that 50% of the earlier drafts were far superior. The problem with design-by-committee is that you end up with something that is good for the committee - not the customer, or the customer's client. Too bad - that thing is just hideous.
posted by luriete at 9:38 AM on June 4, 2007

This company, Wolff Olins, won the contract after a competitive bidding process about a year ago.

Generally, after winning the bid, they would meet with the client, and come up with many rough mockups. Maybe just pencil sketches of concepts. Then they would choose 3-5 of those as the primary candidates, and would design them to an essentially finished state. Then those alternatives would be refined over time on the committee's input, and one would be chosen as "the logo". All the others are just thrown away and will never be seen again.

At that point, they would create variations of the logo for every possible situation it could be used in: monochrome, greyscale, black-background, white-background, different color schemes, small-scale, etc. In addition, there would be work on specifying complementary or custom fonts so that there would be a common design aesthetic. Along with sample usages, like business cards and letterheads. It may also include the branding website, but that's difficult to tell.
posted by smackfu at 9:53 AM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

The branding effort was led by Wolff Olins. On their horrid Flash website, click on "Our Work" and there's a section for the London 2012 branding. That said, I think the whole brand sucks. It looks like they were going for a MTV/VH1-style modular brand where the logo and materials could be adapted to different uses via color and pattern combinations. No doubt part of the £400,000 fee was used to devise all the various combinations.

Realize also that they're hoping to use this same brand for both the Olympics and the Paralympics. It's a lot of money but not beyond the norm of top-tier brand agencies and feels less weighty when you consider it's intended to be used for the London bid and the hoped-for London Olympics.

And no, it's not just a logo. Wolff Olins will be responsible for creating the graphics & standards manual along with sample materials for nearly everything the logo will be used on.

I'm not a branding or graphics designer by trade so I'm sure some real professionals will chime in later to provide more accurate details.
posted by junesix at 9:53 AM on June 4, 2007

Oops, it's the official logo for the actual London Olympics. Sigh.. what a waste.
posted by junesix at 9:56 AM on June 4, 2007

Another example of an identity manual, which is a standard deliverable for a rebranding.

The actual logo design for London 2012 that people dislike was probably set in stone 6 months ago.
posted by smackfu at 9:58 AM on June 4, 2007

This is the vision at the very heart of our brand," said London 2012 organising committee chairman Seb Coe.

"It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world.

From the quote, it seems like they thought this would appeal to "the kids," so my guess is some one said "we want something like myspace," and this is what they came up with.
posted by drezdn at 10:26 AM on June 4, 2007

The price won't just be for a logo, it'll probably be for defining all of the branding. There's also a lot of bureaucracy, politics and hand-shaking to deal with when working on high-profile government-related projects, which pushes the price higher. So yeah, it's expensive, but not quite so outlandish when you look at the ludicrous price tags involved in all aspects of the Olympics.

Most of today's coverage has been rather unfair; the designers had no chance. Too conservative and they get criticised, too daring and they get criticised, committees and clueless bosses cripple the creative process, they're designing for an event that's 5 years away, they're restricted by the IOC and sponsorship requirements, and have to deal with a general public that doesn't know much about design but knows what it doesn't like. Mission: Impossible.
posted by malevolent at 10:44 AM on June 4, 2007

I believe the brand is designed to mutate over time, so this isn't its "finished" state. By the time of the Olympics, it'll look very different. Let's hope so.

To me the logo in its current form looks like a logo of a city council circa 1985. You'll have to be English, and have lived outside London, to understand that reference. But it's spot-on.

Seb Coe may end-up losing his job over this one. Only time will tell...
posted by humblepigeon at 10:46 AM on June 4, 2007

We are currently going through a "rebranding" process for our public agency and are spending closer to 100k. The amount spent is not out of line, but the result, in my opinion, does reflect what a crapshoot the whole process is. (I feel our own rebranding effort is misguided--but was overruled).

In addition to the end products mentioned above, a good branding process involves a lot of research. Ideally, it included a study of the marketplace/audience with some segmentation and psycho/demographics that would give them an idea of who the new identity is speaking to. Then there is the development of the brand description--i.e. what is the personality of the company/organization that needs to be expressed?

All this research is expensive and time-consuming if done well. But, as you can see, is not a guarantee of a great outcome. Which is why the successful agencies can command big fees. They have proven they can do the hard background work and that they have that ineffable "something" that allows them to end up with a logo that is loved (i.e. Nike "Swoosh").

Obviously, the more people involved in the decision-making the less likely you will end up with a really powerful design.
posted by agatha_magatha at 10:55 AM on June 4, 2007

Olympics logos always suck (this one's nice but I don't know if it's real). The mascots do too.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:24 AM on June 4, 2007

I think agatha_magatha has it. We can imagine a few hundred thousand dollars (or pounds) involved in conceptualization and everything practical to handing over a logo/identity/merchandising, but the padding is likely focus groups and analytical research which backs up the design as viable.

This research is likely very important in drawing in corporate sponsors/merchandisers/broadcasters for the games. A good 'sell' would pay for itself.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:28 AM on June 4, 2007

There are hundreds of logos and design elements that get re-designed in the style of the current Olympic theme every 4 years. The £400,000 probably includes customized logos for each event (you know, the little pictures of a guy swimming or whatever), signage, custom fonts, and a host of other materials. If it really was £400,000 just for that horrible 2012 logo, then, yeah, somebody got screwed.
posted by designbot at 11:29 AM on June 4, 2007

High profile branding can get expensive. £400,000 isn't out of line. 5x that isn't unheard of.

However most of that money goes to two sources. One is "name brand" designers working on the project and the other is executive handholding. When you have regular, long meetings with executives from both companies, throw in creative directors, first class airline travel and four star hotels the money adds up pretty fast.

And just because you think it's nasty doesn't mean that someone whit the power to make the decisions didn't love it. Or a creative director managed to sell it on its creative merits (ie: bullshit).
posted by Ookseer at 11:40 AM on June 4, 2007

kirkaracha, that second logo you linked to was the bid logo (the ribbon is in the shape of the river Thames). Heavens knows why they couldn't have kept that.
posted by ukdanae at 11:59 AM on June 4, 2007

Yikes. This logo is a ghastly bad omen of doom.

Thanks for the tip on the new logo, chrismear. We just published a write-up of it on our graphic design blog, Elbowruminations -- and threw in a link back to this AskMetafilter discussion. We described it as a cross between an inukshuk and 1989.

As for the price tag, we know a local studio who charges up to $300,000 CDN for a new corporate identity. For them, it includes a six-month process of meeting, consulting and brainstorming. At the end, the client only gets to review one logo. No other options are presented. All that's included is identity standards, and the different file formats of the logo.

Usually, like Ookseer said, the high price is due to the marketing studio relying on their costs (and a steady stream of BS creative rationale) to prove their expertise. "A strong brand is a big investment," they might say. "We are experts in marketing, and we ensure you'll get the best logo possible by the end of this process."

Unfortunately, doing this also means that they price themselves out of a lot of potential customers' budgets.
posted by Milkman Dan at 12:04 PM on June 4, 2007

It's impossible to say what the price tag includes without actually seeing the proposal. However, what you're looking at is the tip of a very big iceberg. As folks above have indicated there is a process of presenting options, gathering feedback, reducing options, making refinements, repeating ad nauseum. This is a lengthy process even when you're working with one decision maker. When you're working with a committee (perhaps multiple ones in the case) you're forced to up the price based on those variables.

Also, every delivery will include the production of a brand book which is basically the bible for how (or how not) to use this logo. For the Olympics this will get insanely long and they haven't done themselves any favors by including multiple color options with an indication that the mark will morph over time. So there's a lot happening behind the scenes beyond "just the logo".
posted by quadog at 12:12 PM on June 4, 2007

I don't know how much my employer paid for its branding, but they are very strict with it. We are told what font and size to use in our email correspondence and documents, all powerpoint slides (even for internal use) have to be based on the template, we have a list of RGB values to use if we add color to anything. Last week the president even sent an email to everyone with the official 'one sentence description of the company' that we are to use whenever anyone asks about where we work. This sentence is so full of marketing speak that I can't imagine ever saying it with a straight face.

However skeptical I might be about the real value of such things, it does have a real cost to generate them, and £400k doesn't seem shockingly high.
posted by happyturtle at 12:47 PM on June 4, 2007

They pay the big buck to avoid logos like this one (submitted to the BBC as part of a contest to find the best viewer designed logo)

best logo ever
posted by jeffmik at 1:17 PM on June 4, 2007

Ookseer's got it. I work in brand strategy and it seems most of our lives are taken up by pointless (err, to us but it's all about their buy in) meetings and palnning. The creative stuff is the tip of the iceberg. 400k seems completely reasonable... especially in the UK and for something of that scale.
posted by teststrip at 2:29 PM on June 4, 2007

I'm a marketing consultant and I know first-hand how time consuming it can be to come up with a new logo. Logo development involves discussions of concepts, development of concepts, multi-layered approvals of concepts, narrowing down choices, testmarketing, doing trademark searches, trademarking logos, checking to see how the logo works with those of sponsors and so on. For the Olympics, you have the local, state/provincial, national and international committees to satisfy and you've got to come up with something that will fly in various languages, countries, age groups and so on.

It's one thing to come up with a cool logo for a little start-up with few people to please. It's another thing to come up with something like an Olympics logo.
posted by acoutu at 3:28 PM on June 4, 2007

I think this is pretty hashed out, in that (1) it is in-line with similar private-sector branding costs, (2) branding at such a level, for better or worse, involves a lot of costs which do not account for the costs inherent to the actual design.

Especially for public-sector work, there's a lot of pay-offs to be made (expensive meals and hotels) which are our contemporary version of bribing. The average executive and people in charge are in charge not due to their design skills. Having sit in on some buy-side deals (that is sitting in after the marketing team sent all their designs, etc.) I can tell you that categorically, the average person's design sense sucks. Double this for an executive in charge. That is not to say that the creative team necessarily produces commercially viable designs either. As evidenced by most marketing web sites, they tend to want to over-design or stick to whatever design school or philosophy they know.

So it is a careful balance that's something like the Prisoner's Dilemma. No doubt considerable money was spent proving that the design selected was the best. The Olympic games are tricky in that you have, literally, every entire cultural and religious group in the world represented. First is to pick something that does not offend a vocal minority, which is why such designs are usually incredibly abstract and bland. When that is done you get all kinds of test groups that are asked to pick the overall best design and the best design on a variety of positions. Good art is not democratic, as evidenced by the number of now revered artists who were rejected in their time. No doubt London planners would rather have a design characterized as boring or bland and criticized as such, rather than a design that happens to offend or be unusable on the incredibly diverse amounts of media (t-shirts, billboards, television spots) that it will undoubtedly be plastered on.

Do you remember any Olympic logo in paticular? Neither do I, and that's probably a good thing. You don't want to be remembered as the city whose logo looked like a swastika.
posted by geoff. at 3:50 PM on June 4, 2007

Geoff is right. A non-offensive, multi-use logo is hard to find. BC Ferries recently had to repaint its new ships after some people complained that the new logo looked like a swastika. And I'm willing to bet BC Ferries spent a huge amount of money on developing the logo.
posted by acoutu at 4:43 PM on June 4, 2007

Don't forget legal reviews. In theory, a big effort like this is going to demand no legal repercussions, which means you need to pay attorneys to ensure there are no similar marks in use in similar industries. A friend worked for a company which spent big bux on new branding only to be sued after switching to it by a company in the same field with a remarkably similar logo.

I can honestly say there will be no such suit on the new Olympic logo.

And I personally would fly to London and watch the games (which I don't really care about) if I was able to buy official goatse-logo Olympic stuff. jeffmik, shame on your scorn.
posted by maxwelton at 4:51 PM on June 4, 2007

i once was a graphic designer and charge about $1500 for a basic brand package. 400k is just a result of the over commercialized bureaucracy that is the modern Olympic games. i just wish it was me who was capitalizing.
posted by blueplasticfish at 5:00 PM on June 4, 2007

That wasn't BC Ferries' logo - it was only the international symbol for a propellor, which they painted on the hulls next to the propellor
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:29 PM on June 4, 2007

i think logos tend to do better when they are simple ideas...

this logo looks like 'london' on the left has a woody, and the olympics guy on the right is kneeling down to help him out with it...
posted by troybob at 5:53 PM on June 4, 2007

Seriously offer $50 as a worth 1000 contest and you'll get a better logo
posted by jeblis at 9:08 PM on June 6, 2007

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