Published February 28, 2012
LONDON – For athletes, the Olympics are about the gold. For London organizers, the Olympics are about the pink, the purple and the orange — colors that will give the 2012 games an immediately recognizable look.
Cities, towns and hamlets all over Britain are getting ready for their once-in-a-lifetime TV close-ups.
Take Mole Valley, a community of 80,000 near London that is hosting the Olympic cycling road race. It has asked residents to plant dahlias, petunias and sunflowers in Olympic-approved shades so when the riders swish past on July 28-29, television viewers will be left seeing swishes of pink, purple and orange.
It's not an accident: Making Britain memorable is considered critical to the long-term success of the games.
"What will people be reminded of when they pull out the T-shirt, the pin?" asked Greenwich University marketing department professor Peter Vlachos. "Will they remember London or the Olympics?"
Work is being done now in hopes that viewers fondly remember the U.K. and not just the sports. Britain's leaders will spend 9.3 billion pounds ($14.6 billion) on the games, but hope that tourism and outside investments will repay billions in revenue over time.
A barge carrying huge Olympic rings sailed down the Thames on Tuesday to mark 150 days to go until the games, floating beneath historic Tower Bridge.
London's look is predominantly pink, aqua blue, yellow, purple and green — big colors in shards that slash at the edges of Olympic banners. Local neighborhoods need only consult Olympic organizers' "Look Book" to get ideas — and purchase materials — to festoon their buildings in games-approved decor.
"The people who are running these things and their paymasters and mistresses have convinced themselves that you hold these things to sell yourselves to the world," said David Goldblatt, who wrote "How to Watch the Olympics," with co-author Johnny Acton.
This is not an idea unique to London. Hollywood-conscious Los Angeles recognized in 1932 that the games offered a platform for selling its image as the capital of glitz and sun. Organizers planted palm trees along Wilshire Boulevard, making it seem bigger, more stately — a feel that is readily identifiable as Californian.
"If people are going to take pictures, you've got to dress the set," Goldblatt said. "The genius of Los Angeles is that they realized it."
Then Los Angeles supplied the cast — having Hollywood stars appear at the Olympic Village. Screen idols like Mary Pickford hosted parties. The Marx Brothers went to athletics events. Movie mogul Louis B. Mayer had athletes over for coffee.
Although it's a world away from Los Angeles, cycling venue Mole Valley is beside itself with excitement, planning British street parties, contests for kids, welcome centers for tourists.
"The games will put Surrey on the map," said Denise Saliagopoulos of the Surrey County Council.
In a separate move, Olympic organizers also are working to keep out any advertisers trying to sneak in a publicity stunt, imposing strict advertising regulations along the route to protect Olympic sponsors from unwanted competition.
"Where a company deliberately attempts to create an authorized association with London 2012 we will take swift and firm action," organizers said in a statement.
London's Olympics organizers aren't really talking too much about look yet — preferring to wait until a big launch in the spring.
Their early attempts at a unified look have not been met with acclaim. The unveiling of the 2012 London logo was met by a wave of derision. Iranian hard-liners complained that the squarish design spelled out the word "Zion" as opposed to the numerals "2012." Impromptu contests sprang up in the blogosphere to offer alternative logos featuring icons like Big Ben or the London Eye.
But that doesn't mean organizers won't go to great lengths to make sure U.K. sites hosting the games look just so.
The marathon route originally was supposed to go through gritty areas in east London where the Olympic Park is located. But — mindful of television images — organizers rerouted the race so it now passes classic London landmarks.