Mascots & the Olympics: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Olympic Games — in their summer and winter editions — are the ultimate showcase for a variety of sports that most people are not that used to watch, but nevertheless, enjoy in a way or another (we’re always up for some curling!). The premise of gathering the best of the best always works, and there’s some room left for a bit of good ‘ol folk fun. Here’s where mascots come into scene.

Olympic mascots have gotten a fairly large amount of attention, though not always for good reasons. Unlike the World-Cup (whose mascots have been quite successful), the Olympics have had a hard time finding the right mascot. In fact, history shows that most Olympic mascots have become failures in terms of representation: they just didn’t work as symbols of the event. There are, of course, exceptions. Today we’re going to focus on three mascots: one that worked out great, one that unexpectedly triumphed and one that failed horribly.

The Good: Beijing 2008’s Fuwa. Regarded as — perhaps — the most successful games in history, Beijing’s mascot couldn’t be less. They’re actually 5 different mascots, each one of them representing a chinese cultural symbol in the form of a good-luck doll. Both corporate brands and people loved them; all the credit goes to Han Meilin, an accomplished chinese artist who proved that his lengthy career and reputation were not a result of chance. Sponsorships, videogames and even theater shows (plus tons of memorabilia and promotional products) make it one of the best Olympic mascots ever — just like the games it represented.

The Bad: Sidney 2000’s Olly, Syd & Millie. When compared to other Olympic mascots, the australian ones do not appear as ugly or unpleasant designs. However, they were subject of an agressive marketing campaign — so ferocious that backfired in the worst possible way: in protest, an unofficial mascot appeared and became far more popular (both in appearances and sales) than the official ones.

The Ugly: Barcelona 1992’s Cobi. Alright, disclaimer: in our opinion, Cobi wasn’t ugly — it was a cubist representation of a catalan sheepdog. Vanguardist? Sure. But most people quickly labeled Cobi as ugly. The aftermath, however, was different: Cobi totally rocked the games and mascot-themed products saw skyrocketing sales. Javier Mariscal — an eminence of spanish design — must have enjoyed the whole thing.

Olympics are hard, both for athletes and mascots. Now that Rio 2016 is just around the corner, there’s the chance to watch how its mascot performs. We like the design — but we fear a vuvuzuela revival (please don’t!)

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