When Dmitry Chernyshenko was appointed the CEO of the Sochi 2014 Bid Committee, Russia put its Olympics bid into the hands of an advertising man. That was not a bad decision. Chernyshenko seems to have the perfect hands for brandishing a magical wand over the country.
The head of the 2014 Games in Sochi now calls himself the “happiest man in the world,” in part because he gets to play a key role in “creating an historical legacy for the country” (AFP).
Remaking Russia’s image to the rest of the world seems to be Chernyshenko’s primary role in the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games. The games will transform the city of Sochi into a world-class resort, dispelling its Soviet-era aura. This transformation is intended to set an example for the rest of Russia. More importantly, though, it is meant to prove to the world that Russia is moving forward.
Chernyshenko compared hosting the Olympic games to a “magic wand” for Russia. He said, “Sochi will show the new face of modern Russia and break the old stereotypes” (Financial Times).
In branding the Winter 2014 Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chernyshenko and the rest of the Olympic committee seem to be branding a new Russia. So what do the different brand elements for Sochi say about what these leaders want others to view as the new Russia?
Let’s start with the logo. At the end of 2009, the Sochi Olympic logo was revealed and rightfully praised for its futurism. It’s the first Olympics logo to include a URL, and its simplicity makes it an international symbol rather than a cultural one (Adweek).
Many people have compared it to the London 2012 Olympics logo, calling both radical departures from the traditional Olympics logo designs. I looked up a list of previous Olympics logos and quickly discovered why. Instead of placing the location of the games and the year below the logo, they were incorporated into the overall design.
It seems where London failed, Sochi succeeded. The London games promoted themselves as social, but Sochi proved that they were social by including the URL. And bonus, adding the .ru included Russia in the logo. A few Londonians even prefer the Russian logo.
“The organisers managed to not only provide great branding opportunity for Sochi, but they also managed to capture the essence of promoting the whole nation in that little .ru,” said Klara Lettavova, a writer at WebCertain who studies at the London School of Economics.
Fred Burt, managing director of the design agency Siegel+Gale London said, “I’m no fan of the London 2012 identity so it’s good to see Sochi 2014 restore some sanity. It feels fresh and up-to-date, promising a new Russia that perhaps the wider world doesn’t know (think how Beijing benefitted in this regard)” (LogoDesignLove).
So what does the Sochi 2014 logo say about Russia? “Sochi.ru” says that Sochi should be connected with Russia, and what is developed in Sochi reflects Russia. The “.ru” says that Russia is looking towards the future. The simplicity of design puts Russia on a clean slate. It’s also easily accepted for all cultures of the world, which is what Russia desires to be.
Feel enlightened? Logos are never as simple as they seem at first glance.
The pictograms for the 2014 Winter Olympics are a modernization of the pictograms used for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the only other Olympic event to be held in Russia’s (or then the Soviet Union’s) history. The pictograms will be used at event venues, on Sochi 2014 official merchandise and on the Olympics tickets (Filothea).
“I have no doubt that the pictograms will have particular significance to all residents of Russia, as these new symbols have been influenced by the 1980 Moscow Olympics pictograms, “creating a bridge” from the past to the future,” said Chernyshenko (Sochi 2014).
Just like the logo, these symbols were designed to connect Russia with a new future. They are based on pictograms used by the Soviet Union, but their modernization shows the abandonment of parts of the old Soviet identity.
The patchwork quilt
Another iconic symbol of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics is a patchwork quilt that includes the representation of traditional crafts from each of the 89 regions of Russia (Sochi 2014). The quilt represents diversity. Although it is based in Russia’s history, it is both welcoming and futuristic. Each patch’s pattern is computer generated and modern-looking. So again, we know to connect the ideas of modern and welcoming to Russia – not just to Sochi.
Forming a cohesive picture
All of these elements combine to create a very futuristic picture of Russia. The slogan for the 2014 Winter games, “Hot. Cool. Yours.,” may not have been as sucessful. (Read Brian Bondus’s take on the slogan or go on ahead and make up your own story.)
But a picture is worth a thousand words, and nobody ever remembers the slogan anyway.
Then again, actions speak louder than words. In order for the world to accept a new Russia, the 2014 Winter Olympics will have to be executed in a friendly, modern manner. Russia will also have to live up to its new identity, especially after receiving so many negative headlines lately, like the handling of the Pussy Riot protest, support of the Syrian regime, and even the bulldozing of homes in Sochi to construct structures for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Presenting a brilliant identity to the world is one thing, but living up to that identity will be what determines the world’s true perception of Russia. We’ll have to wait until 2014 to see if Chernyshenko really is a wizard…or if he’s just an ad man working for a client with an identity crisis.