CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - How London plans to win over the public with its Olympic bid

M&C Saatchi is planning to fuel public support for the bid. Claire Billings reports.

London's official bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012 launched last week with an ad campaign featuring a giant athlete hurdling over one of the Capital's most historic landmarks, Tower Bridge, with the slogan: "Leap for London."

The unveiling of the ads coincided with the date that all competing cities - New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Istanbul, Leipzig, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Havana - submitted their initial applications to become the host of the 2012 Olympic Games.

At this stage, none of these cities is in the running, but if their applications get past the first round of the selection process, which takes place on 18 May, they become official contenders to host the games.

Few details about London's bid have been revealed. According to an outline on the London 2012 website, central to the proposal is the regeneration of the Capital.

It includes an improved transport network, which would be essential to cope with the tourists the games would attract, and rejuvenating the Lower Lea Valley, where the Olympic Village and Olympic stadium would be built.

But convincing the International Olympic Committee that London is deserving of the boon the Olympics would bring is not the only battle that the bid organisers, led by the former Go chief executive, Barbara Cassani, have to win.

One of the IOC's concerns is that the country's inhabitants are as enthusiastic about London 2012 as its backers - the Government, the British Olympic Association and the Greater London Authority.

The role of the public in the event is crucial - from volunteering to help ensure the event runs smoothly to giving participants a warm welcome.

But presenting Britain as an entire nation behind something even as worthwhile as the Olympics is not easy.

One problem the London 2012 bid does have to deal with is the perception that the UK, particularly Londoners, are sceptical that the Capital could even contemplate taking on such a vast project, with its buckling transport system and general overcrowding.

M&C Saatchi and The Ingram Partnership were handed the brief by COI Communications in November to develop a communications idea to generate support for the bid using a range of media, with buying by Starcom MediaVest.

The "Leap for London" slogan aims to achieve this with two messages. One is to encourage consumers to stretch their imaginations to picture a London that can cope with an even greater influx of tourists than normal during the summer months. The second is to ask people to take this leap of faith, by planting in their minds the enormous social and economic leap London would take if it wins.

The campaign is initially rolling out in London. The hurdler execution, and another one involving a woman high-jumping the London Eye, will appear on giant boards at key sites in the Capital, as well as on 48-sheet posters in the Lower Lea Valley, where leaflets will also be handed out in schools, libraries and sports centres. Press ads will run in London titles and leaflets will be distributed in Covent Garden.

Although the creative work centres on a giant leap, the campaign, at this stage, is on quite a small scale compared with the mammoth task ahead of it to persuade Britons to shake off the reserve ingrained in their character.

The ads that launched last week are just the initial phase, according to James Lowther, the chairman of M&C Saatchi: "This will grow as more corporate sponsorship comes in. We want to do more than just conventional ads."

Like the bid, there are few details about where the campaign will go from here. Regional work is planned, because some sports, such as football, will be held in cities such as Cardiff and Edinburgh.

TV is another possibility and, as well as ads, news coverage and programmes about the Olympics, the agencies are also understood to have pitched some eccentric ideas to keep the bid at the front of people's minds.

At present, the plans for the campaign are sketchy as those involved don't want to divulge details of the bid or the promotional tactics for fear of jeopardising London's chances by falling foul of IOC guidelines.

Whatever media and creative concepts are used will depend largely on how much British business gets behind the bid, according to Ivan Pollard, a partner at The Ingram Partnership. "The scale of what we are able to achieve in getting the public excited will be a function of the corporate sponsorship and media partnerships we are able to generate," he says.

The campaign's impact will be tested in just over a year's time, when 20 IOC members will visit each applicant city to examine their suitability ahead of the final vote on 6 July in Singapore. As part of this visit, the organisation will carry out secret public opinion polls to gauge the mood.

2012 may be some way off and given the scale of the regeneration project Britain would undertake, it is just as well. But the final vote is much sooner, and the ad campaign must work hard to ensure it is not the imagination of IOC members that has to take a giant leap when they assess London's chances.