By Paul Kelso
19 May 2010
After 18 months, 40 focus groups and a secret operation worthy of MI5, London 2012 on Wednesday finally revealed the mascots that will help define the capital’s Olympic experience, and just as importantly help pay for it.
The one-eyed figures, called Wenlock and Mandeville, were unveiled at an east London school on Wednesday with organisers hoping they will inspire a generation of children and persuade their parents to contribute the £15 million the mascots are slated to raise in merchandising revenue.
Two parts-Pokemon to one-part lava lamp with yellow ‘Taxi’ lights on their foreheads, the distinctive characters are intended to capture the imagination of children and work as well in the digital world as they will in costume form at trackside in 2012.
Any concern at the appropriateness of the design, which shares a certain abstraction with London’s much criticised logo, should be off-set by the smart choice of names, which resonate with Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic history.
Much Wenlock in Shropshire is considered by many the birthplace of the modern Olympics. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the IOC, visited the town in 1890 and took inspiration from the annual Games organised by Dr William Penny Brookes, a local doctor, to “promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants”.
Stoke Mandeville’s famous spinal injuries unit meanwhile was where the Paralympic movement began, and the naming of one mascot after the hospital is an explicit attempt to raise the profile of the Paralympic Games.
The mascots will soon be ubiquitous, with merchandise going on sale in July to mark two years to the London 2012 opening ceremony.
They are a central part of London’s £70 million merchandising budget, and organisers hope the mascots will contribute up to 20 per cent of that sum through sales of T-shirts, key-rings, tea-towels and the like.
The Cyclops design allows the mascots’ eyes to work as lenses, and digital cameras in the shape of the characters will be available.
With Wenlock representing the Olympics and Mandeville the Paralympic Games they will be available to the two Games various commercial partners as well as together. Paralympic sponsor Sainsbury’s has already said it wants Mandeville to visit every one of their stores.
London 2012 say the key to meeting their commercial target has been developing a storyline that will lend Wenlock and Mandeville credibility in a pre-teen marketplace where they will be up against Dr Who and other established brands.
To that end London recruited former Childrens’ Laureate Michael Morpurgo, who came up with the concept of the mascots being fashioned from two drops of molten steel spilt in the making of the last steel girder used in the Olympic Stadium.
In an animated film that will form part of a series, Morpurgo has grandfather George picking up the two drops of steel on his last day at the Bolton foundry before retirement. Back at home he fashions the steel into figures which he then gives to his grandchildren. Animated by a rainbow they turn somersaults for the children before disappearing off on the road to London.
Olympic organisers rejected numerous more literal designs from an original competition entry of more than 100, including animated tea-pots, pigeons, lions and a Big Ben with arms and legs. They settled on the design because it is flexible — the characters can be customised into recognisable costumes and even celebrity identities — and because of its digital potential.
Wenlock and Mandeville will tweet, have a presence on Facebook, and they will tap into London’s education project. Pupils will be able to lobby for them to visit their schools in person.
According to London organising committee chairman Sebastian Coe the sotry behind the characters was as important as their design, and he was unapologetic at aiming squarely at a child audience.
“We’ve created our mascots for children,” he said. “They will connect young people with sport and tell the story of our proud Olympic and Paralympic history. By linking young people to the values of sport, Wenlock and Mandeville will help inspire kids to strive to be the best they can be.” Locog chief executive Paul Deighton rejected the suggestion that the mascots lack distinctively British characteristics, and said they should be seen as part of London’s campaign to engage the nation in the next year.
“People already know that the Games are in London so the mascots don’t need to say that. The priority for 2010 is to build what I call our fan-base, and the mascots are a big part of that. The strength of these is that they tap into our other main themes this year, education, ticketing and volunteering.
They are perfect for us because they are perfect for the digital age, and we’re really hopeful that they will chime with children.”
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