Close-Up: How does adland view 2012 mascots?

Are Wenlock and Mandeville going to be a London Olympics success story, Matt Williams asks.

After the furore surrounding the design of the London 2012 Olympic logo when it first launched two years ago, you can imagine just how tightly crossed the fingers of the people at the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games were when the event's mascots were revealed on the BBC's One Show recently.

Created by Iris, Wenlock (named after the village of Much Wenlock in Shropshire) and Mandeville (named after Stoke Mandeville hospital, the birthplace of the Paralympic Games) each has one eye, two short legs and a yellow light on its head (as a reference to London's black cabs).

The characters were supposedly born from drops of steel from London's Olympic stadium, and will, it's claimed, represent "the digital generation".

Their launch was accompanied by an animated video, written by the author Michael Morpurgo, as well as a digital campaign that encouraged people to customise their own versions of the mascots.

Wenlock and Mandeville are also already on Facebook, and will regularly update their own Twitter accounts too.

"We believe we've created a first in the world of mascots," Grant Hunter, the creative director of Iris, says. "We've created a flexible design with two forms that are fluid and designed to play sport. Yes, they could be called futuristic but their reflective skins allow them to morph and change, to reflect the rich heritage of our great country."

It's fair to say that initial press reaction was less than enthusiastic. The Guardian called the mascots "pitiful", while The Times referred to them as "insipid, anaemic, bullied extras from some Pixar spin-off".

Those on Twitter called for more British-centric characters, and pondered whether the cameras in the pair's eyes would do nothing but add to the country's reputation as a surveillance society.

"It's de rigeur to criticise the mascot and much of the negative comment has followed an expected and obvious path," Hunter says. "After all, it wouldn't be Britain if people didn't have something to whinge about."

Inevitably, much like as happened with the logo, the ferocious criticism has begun to die down as the dust settles. Hunter points to the launch being "just the start of a long journey", where we will see the characters come to life online as people - particularly children - begin to interact and customise them.

Indeed, Robert Campbell, the founder of Beta, suggests that "my threeand four-year-old boys will probably be collecting them", and reaction from young people has certainly been more positive than that found on Fleet Street.

London 2012, it seems, continues to divide opinion.

** PLANNER - Andy Nairn, executive planning director, MCBD

"The best mascots function as instant pieces of branded entertainment, which can galvanise diverse audiences across many touchpoints.

"Unfortunately, Wenlock and Mandeville fail on all counts. They're far from instant, relying on a contrived back story conceived by a children's novelist.

"They bring no branding cues of London/British provenance (I understand the desire to avoid Beefeater-and-doubledecker cliches but surely there must have been an original way round this?).

"They seem self-consciously designed to appeal to children in a way that kids hate and adults ignore. Finally, a quick visit to the official 2012 homepage reveals that they are nowhere to be seen.

"I hate to be so negative about such well-intentioned icons, but the intentions (to be seen as achingly modern, international and creative) are too transparent."

AGENCY HEAD - Stephen Woodford, chief executive, DDB UK

"At DDB's Global conference last week, the Olympic mascots were shown as a kind of news item at the start of the day. The reaction was a mix of laughter, bafflement, derision and pity. Clearly, this was not the target audience.

"So I asked my seven-year-old daughter what she thought. She likes them and thinks they are funny. My 12-year-old thought they were a bit weird, but quite liked the Union Jack versions.

"I went to the official site, then the blog and Twitter comments. My visceral dislike thawed a little. I found a blog that had previous Olympic mascots - all were terrible and forgettable. These are memorable at least.

"Then I thought back to the derision that met the 2012 logo. I'd say now it has been adopted by brands and become more familiar, it feels quite comfortable. Will the same happen with the mascots, in part because of the controversy?"

Will they be cheered or booed at the opening ceremonies?

Wenlock and Mandeville might just be cheered (even ironically) because of the stick they've got - there's nothing we like more than underdogs and here are two gold medallists.

CREATIVE - Thiago De Moraes, creative director, CHI & Partners

"As with the Olympic logo, I admire the principles that seemed to lead to the mascots being what they are: trying something new, not giving too much thought to what has been done before, embracing different media etc. As with the logo, I feel a bit disappointed with the final result.

"The back story is great, and the little film that tells it online is quite sweet. They seem to be at their best when they are moving. When they are still, they look quite cold; maybe it's because they don't have a lot of features that allow them to display different emotions.

"They're also quite good when they say stuff: their news feeds, profiles and other new-media bits and bobs. That makes them feel alive and interesting.

"It feels that as the Games approach, they'll be able to create a meaningful relationship with people through these more personal channels."

DESIGN AGENCY HEAD - David Villiers, creative director, G2 Branding & Design

"People are inherently conservative so the brief for the London Olympic mascots was always going to be a tough one.

"But this is an exercise in branding and merchandising, primarily aimed at raising awareness, in general, and, more specifically, affection from young people. On that level, the mascots work very well: adaptable, digitally flexible, distinctive, contemporary, and comfortable in the world of kids TV, gaming and social media.

"Look at previous Olympic icons and you realise nobody has really succeeded since Mariscal's 92 Barcelona Cobi. It would have been so easy for the designers to have gone down the expected routes based on native animals or contemporary culture. But, instead, they've done what's right for London as the global capital of contemporary design and produced a brave and visually striking piece of design."

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