Ticketing fiasco belies the “people’s games”

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With hazy sunshine bathing the nation’s capital it’s suddenly apparent that there is barely a year to go before London 2012. And with just over a year to go, as the strategy consultants like to say, the rubber starts to hit the road.

Specifically, the first real customer decisions are starting to be made. I am not talking about the botched logo or the even more botched mascots – now we are getting to the nitty gritty of ticketing. Once again Games organiser Locog is hovering dangerously close to making a marketing mess of things. More than 20 million applications have been received for 6.6 million tickets. Tuesday this week (10 May) was meant to be the day Locog would begin withdrawing the money from the accounts of the successful applicants, but that date has already been set back as stirrings of marketing trouble once again bedevil the 2012 Games.

Unusually, Locog has opted to withdraw money from successful applicants’ bank accounts a full six weeks before these people are notified of their success or find out which events they are actually being charged for. It’s a “bizarre system” according to the consumer magazine Which? and it also opens the door to another potential scandal for the 2012 Games. With only one-quarter of applications set to be successful, Locog is preparing for the enormous fallout from millions of disappointed punters whose applications were rejected because of lack of availability. In order to manage that fallout Locog has opted not to disclose the final allocations of tickets for the 2012 Olympic events. To do so would be to reveal that millions of applicants failed to secure a ticket for their chosen events because many of the most popular attractions had at least half their tickets pre-reserved for VIPs and corporate sponsors.

The imminent ticketing crisis now rising in the East End suggests the bureaucrats are running the show

Therein lies the problem for Locog. When it was sold to the British taxpayer back in 2005 we were told this would be the “people’s games”. In contrast to the amazing military precision of Beijing, London was going to be a low-key and inclusive event in which the public felt a greater sense of ownership and fun.

That was the right approach because nobody outdoes China on being efficient, impressive and enormously well run. You can’t beat 3 million amazingly synchronised Chinese drummers and a nine-hour firework extravaganza timed to perfection. It’s also the right approach because – and let’s be honest here – to be British is not necessarily to be brilliantly organised and in control all the time. We are a nation that singularly fails to organise things well and deliver as predicted – and yet we come through in the end. Remember the chaos around the 2000 Millennium Dome celebrations? That is how we roll here in the UK: chaotically, wobbly, but with a sense of fun and eventual triumph. Just as the 2008 Games were fundamentally Chinese because they were so well controlled and orchestrated, the 2012 Games will only be truly British if they are open, fun and slightly chaotic.

We had a hint of that correct brand execution when the six-metre high official Olympic clock from Omega stopped counting down to the opening of the games barely a day after it had been installed back in March. Omega issued an immediate and very stuffy press release. But someone at Locog – perhaps the one person there who understands brand properly – did exactly the right thing. They laughed it off and casually informed the media “it’s not our clock!”. Spot on.

But the imminent ticketing crisis now rising in the East End suggests that the bureaucrats are running the show and they are about to hurt the 2012 brand by trying to be too efficient and organised. As the technology editor of Which? Matthew Bath put it earlier this week: “The Games are supposed to be universal and accessible but there is an odd lack of information and clarity on the chances of applicants winning.”

It is not too late to save the 2012 Olympics brand. It starts with rooting out the “brand strategists” at Locog who hired a brand consulting firm rather than asking the British public to design the Games’ logo. I am betting it’s the same set of executives who thought nothing about pre-selling half the tickets for the “people’s games” to VIPs rather than allowing the public to have a fair go at getting hold of them. And it’s probably the same executives that are sniffily holding back the actual data on how many seats were pre-sold in order to “protect the brand”.

If Locog is to save the 2012 Games it must go back to its original positioning: a Games that belongs to the people. One of fun and openness. One that is run with very British eccentricity.

Building brand is not about the logo, the press releases or over-the-top control of information. It’s fundamentally about remembering what you stand for – and letting that knowledge drive everything you do. So far the London Games are a long way from any kind of medal finish when it comes to branding, but as the great Seb Coe himself will remember – there is always time for that final sprint in the home straight for glory.

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