Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lame Mascots?

Neve (a snowball) and Gliz (an ice cube), the blissed-out symbols of Torino 2006, represent the two things absolutely necessary for the Winter Games: snow and ice.They were designed to personify winter sports. They are all about the harmony of sports and the power of athletes. Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant

From the Hartford Courant:

Olympic Lonely Guys 2006's Snowball And Ice Cube Simply Don't Have Much Crowd Appeal
January 18, 2006 By GREG MORAGO, Hartford Courant Staff Writer

The life of an Olympic mascot isn't all it's cracked up to be; identity crisis is acute.Are you animal, vegetable or mineral? Does your species actually exist?

Is your sex readily definable? (Or, horrors, are you genderless?)

It gets worse: Do you have to compete for attention with a co-mascot?

Are you saddled with a silly name?

Are you on Zoloft? (We ask only because you're always so darn happy.)

Do you worry that anyone will remember you after all the medals have been tossed around so many muscled necks?

Pity the Olympic mascot.

We're only weeks from the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, and the event's two mascots are busy trying to put on a brave face amid reports that the global public is thoroughly nonplussed about the Games.

Neve and Gliz, the blissed-out symbols of Torino 2006, are going for the gold in the PR department. It helps that they're considered cute as buttons.

But just what are they? Um, buttons?

No, Neve (a snowball) and Gliz (an ice cube) represent the two things absolutely necessary for the Winter Games: snow and ice.

They were designed to personify winter sports. They are all about the harmony of sports and the power of athletes. (This, according to the Games' official release. To us, they look like campfire marshmallows just begging to be burned at the end of a pointed stake.)

Poor Neve and Gliz are only the latest examples of particularly curious thingamajigs that have been passed off as happy mascots in the name of Olympics branding.

As Olympic mascots go, they are neither repulsive (like the Athena and Phevos of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens) nor particularly cuddly (like Hodori, the tiger cub from the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul).

They share the same sort of abstract, cartoony terrain as Magique (the "snow imp" of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville), but they're not the grotesquerie that was Izzy, the abstract "Whatizit" from the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Few Olympics mascots can approach the popularity of Misha, the lovable, huggable bear cub of Moscow's 1980 Summer Olympics. Misha's big ears, roly-poly belly and eager smile made him the adorable must-have collectible of that year's Olympics and the furry winner against which all other mascots have been measured.

It is the rare mascot, though, that comes close to Misha's gold medal turn. Does anyone hold any high affection for Roni the raccoon of the 1980 Winter Olympics of Lake Placid? Or for the "Snowlets" - Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki - of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano? What became of Powder, Copper and Coal of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City? Why have Olympic mascots mostly failed?

"They've tried to accomplish too much with the mascots. Make it representative of the Games, yet at the same time make it saleable from a merchandisable standpoint. They [the Olympic Committee] try to be all things to all people with their mascots and end up appealing to no one," said Bill Field, president of Mintz & Hoke Communications Group, a public relations and advertising firm in Avon.

"Neve and Gliz look like they're on a Saturday morning cartoon show from the '60s. You won't find them anytime soon in the Mascott Hall of Fame alongside the San Diego Chicken or the Phillie Phanatic. They'll go to mascot heaven like all the other previous Olympic mascots."

So what makes a great mascot, Olympic or otherwise?

Field said the public needs to connect with the mascot on a purely emotional level.

"Audiences need to view mascots as extensions of their teams and sports that they have a personal stake in," he said.

"How can anyone get excited about two characters named Neve and Gliz?

You have to care about a mascot.

"But before you care about it, you have to remember it."

A good mascot has to be memorable. If it's hard to identify or isn't recognizable as something specific, it's not going to do the job it's supposed to. A mascot needs to stand for something. It needs to be more than just cute - it has to have a personality," said Don Carter, creative director at Adams & Knight Advertising in Avon.

"Pro sports mascots are very much symbols of competitiveness and team spirit. With the Olympics, the competitiveness is certainly less aggressive. So the mascots tend to be much more in the spirit of sportsmanship and world camaraderie."

They also seem to be hard-shilling vehicles for Olympics merchandising. How else to explain the three mascots of the 2002 Summer Olympics in Sydney. If you bought Olly, a Kookaburra, you also had to buy Syd, the platypus and Millie the echidna (representing the new millennium).

And just how warm and fuzzy can you get to "concept" mascots like those from the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City? Powder, Copper and Coal may have represented "faster," "higher" and "stronger," but they also were hideously unfriendly.

"I can't remember even one Olympic mascot because they're all completely bland and forgettable. To create a memorable mascot, Olympics committees need to pump up the personality," said Patrick Dugan, senior copywriter at Adams & Knight.

"For example, provide a back story, maybe one of those `Up Close and Personal' segments that dives into the challenges the mascot has had to overcome, such as squeezing their oversize foam heads through tight spaces. Then, `edge them up' with some paparazzi photos of the mascot partying with celebrities like Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan. I guarantee people will remember Neve and Gliz if they're wearing some bling and hitting the club scene instead of frolicking merrily in the Olympic Village."

Field said the Olympic mascot gurus need to go back to the drawing board and reconsider their motives in creating a lovable symbol of the Olympics - something that's both a good merchandising vehicle and something people will care about.

So, how will the post-Torino Olympic mascots fare? They're obviously not listening to Field. The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing sports five mascots - five! Called the Five Friendlies, they represent the five rings of the Olympics and "embody the natural characteristics of four of China's most popular animals - the fish, the panda, the Tibetan antelope, the swallow - and the Olympic flame," according to the official site.

Um, OK. But we're not buying five plush toys no matter how friendly they look.

Reach Greg Morago at
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Blogger Maru said...

So Olympic mascots need to be outrageous, naughty and sexy? That concept sounds all too American, actually. I think that Olympic mascots should be simple, cute and representational, and Neve and Gliz fit the bill quite nicely.

Please don't forget that the Olympics are a worldwide event and not all countries share the same "values" as North America…. and the Olympics aren't aired on FOX.

Besides, we all know Paris Hilton would make a crappy mascot for lack of talent and Lindsey Lohan never changes facial expressions. I know you said the mascots should hang out with them, but I won’t get into the fact that mascots are fictional and the afore mentioned girls aren’t.

Sunday, February 12, 2006 11:56:00 PM  

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