Recently New York City has been festooned with a series of breathless, sometimes obvious, often cryptic, epigrams; written in multi-colored type on black backgrounds. Unless you notice the logo for New York’s 2012 Olympics bid, the slogans seem to have a Think Pink utility.
From Funny Face:
MEN [painters, with NYC accents] —
Think pink! think pink, it’s the latest word, you know.
Think pink! think pink and you’re Michelangelo.
Feels so gay, feels so bright.
Makes you day, makes you night.
Pink is now the colour to which you gotta switch!
Do what you gotta switch!
Every stitch you switch!
Think pink! Think pink on the long, long road ahead.
WOMEN & MEN —
On the road… think pink!
Think pink and the world is rosey-red
WOMEN & MEN —
Everything on the great horizon,
Everything that you can think—
and that includes the kitchen sink,
The NYC 2012 graphics have an equally optimistic tone:
The copy was written by Brian Collins, Executive Creative Director of Ogilvy’s Brand Integration Group (BIG). I had a chance to discuss the project with him at an Oscar-viewing party, and during our conversation he described the Olympics as the closest thing to Star Trek’s Federation of Planets — an idealistic representation of man’s potential — and how this was the model that, in his mind, the project aspired to. Instead of laughing, I quickly nodded in agreement and appreciation of Brian’s ability to size me up as a Star Trek geek, and quickly convey such a complex idea.
He went on to confirm that the appearance of the NYC 2012 branding campaign was timed to coincide with a visit by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Evaluation Commission. Everywhere they went, the IOC was bombarded with a unified brand message ranging from banners and posters to sidewalks full of Olympic supporters. During a visit to Times Square, hosted by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, they were bombarded with layers of synchronized graphics on Jumbotron screens, ads on the sides of busses passing by, and banners hanging from light ploles.
Lynn Zinser in The New York Times (Feb. 15, 2005) wrote:
Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff described the details of next week’s presentation to the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission, he made it clear yesterday that he would do everything shy of personally installing the NYC2012 banners that will drape storefronts, buildings and utility poles around New York City.
Of course, if needed, he might do that, too.
Doctoroff is tackling the four-day visit with the same full-throttle energy that I.O.C. members have come to know during his extensive lobbying efforts.
Doctoroff estimated that he was in eight countries in the past few weeks. In the past year and a half, Doctoroff said he had 300 meetings with I.O.C. members and had gotten to know almost all of the 117 members who will select the 2012 Summer Games host city on July 6. New York, Paris, London, Madrid and Moscow are competing for the prize.
The evaluation commission’s visit will be pure Doctoroff; his now eight-year-old dream to bring the Olympics to New York will be presented in the finest details.
“We’ve planned it down to the minute,” he said. “And in four days, there are a lot of minutes.”
For an hour yesterday, Doctoroff outlined the agenda, from the commission’s arrival on a flight from London on Sunday through its final news conference Thursday. It will be the commission’s job to probe the plausibility of New York’s bid, to scour Doctoroff’s details for strengths and flaws.
For two days, the commission will be largely holed up in a conference room at the Plaza Hotel, albeit one with a grand view of Central Park and the exhibition “The Gates.”
“It’s kind of like what you get during a Ph.D. presentation and defense,” Doctoroff said. “There will be 13 people on one side of the table and us on the other side, making presentations and answering their questions.”
On the two other days, commission members will be escorted to the proposed Olympic sites, where experts will highlight their Olympics and post-Olympics uses. Their travel routes will be lined with NYC2012 banners. There will be flourishes: fencers will compete on the steps of the New York Public Library, and a public rally will be staged Monday afternoon at Rockefeller Center.
Doctoroff promised as much fanfare as is allowed under the new I.O.C. rules, which were created to curtail over-the-top wooing. The events will include a horse-drawn carriage ride, a performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center and a dinner at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s home.
One comment that struck me during my conversation with Brian Collins was that the main intention of all this (mostly donated) effort was to demonstrate to 13 IOC representatives, New York’s appropriateness and ability to host the 2012 games. But beyond that, an additional benefit was to (for lack of a better word) promote the concept to New Yorkers — certainly a hard sell, especially after the pain and anguish of last summer’s Republican National Convention.
In this light, the NYC2012 effort comes off as what I once heard Thomas Sebeok, a major figure in semeotic studies, describe as a Barnum Statement. Also known as the Forer Effect, such a statement is vague enough and complimentary enough for the reader to accept it as meant specifically for them — newspaper horoscopes are an ideal example.
For a Barnum Statement to be accepted, there should be some sort of confirmation bias, or belief that the message has been specifically meant for the reader — making it harder to reject because of doubt and skepticism. And this is the reason why, ultimately, the NYC2012 branding efforts are not as effective as they could be: because there was a pre-existing atmosphere of doubt and rancor.
I have either the blessing or the curse of a pretty good memory for trivial details. And for some reason an item in the New York Post’s gossip pages, noting a dinner between friends Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Robert Wood Johnson IV (around the time of Bloomberg’s election), struck me as odd. Bloomberg was a relatively unheard-of billionaire until 2000, when he switched to the Republican party to avoid the intrenched Democratic Party system, and entered the race to replace Rudy Giuliani. After spending 70 million dollars of his own money, and sending several waves of direct mail to just about every New Yorker, he won. Fellow billionaire, Robert Wood Johnson IV is heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune and sits on the Board of Trustees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In 2000, Johnson purchased the New York Jets for 635 million dollars and immediately began petitioning for a home stadium in New York City. (The Jets shared Shea Stadium with the New York Mets from 1964 to 1983, when they moved to Giants Stadium in New Jersey — pledging to return to New York if a stadium could ever be built.)
One of Mayor Mike’s grand
schemes visions for New York City is a new Jets stadium atop the Metropolitan Transit Agency’s (MTA) rail yards on the west side of Manhattan. The original arrangement called for the Jets to offer the MTA 100 million dollars and a promise to build a large retail area (including a community market, museum, and river-front cafe) either in or nearby the stadium; the City would promise to build a large platform over the railyards. In a feeble attempt to deflect cries of cronyism, it was introduced as all things to all people:
1. a prerequisite for winning the 2012 Olympics
2. a much-needed jump start for economic development
3. a much-needed expansion for the Jacob Javits Convention Center, which is across the street
4. a much-needed place to assemble 40-odd thousand people (huh!?)
5. a reason to extend the #7 subway line all the way west
The stadium’s proposed location puts it only a couple cross-town blocks from Madison Square Garden; who’s owners, Cablevision, took issue with a competitor so close to their front door — and probably had some other issues too; Cablevision owner Charles Dolan was outbid and lost the Jets to Johnson. Ugliness ensued.
For almost a year now, the Jets and Cablevision have been fighting it out in public — even as far away as Buffalo. Cablevision’s television ads feature various public servants — firemen, teachers, etc. — asking why public money was being diverted away from needed services in order to build a stadium that would only be used for eight home games a year. The Jets came back with ads starring their unofficial mascot, Firefighter Edwin Anzalone, a thick-necked rough who on game day leads — well… screams, actually — the unofficial Jets cheer, which goes something like “J! E! T! S! Jets! Jets! JETS!”. In these ads, Fireman Ed stands in front of his fire station in Harlem (making a tacit, and tasteless, connection to the Fire Department’s 9-11 victims), screams how the stadium will rain money on public services, and finishes by yelling “BUILD IT!”.
Even some fellow designers joined the fracas; deftly critiquing both the branding campaign and the probable reasons for the Olympic initiative.
Sadly, it seems inevitable that the effectiveness of the NYC2012 branding program would suffer from the brutality and heat of such a public argument. Currently, BIG features some of the brightest and best designers around — including Barry Deck and Allen Hori — so any failure to rise above the fray and convey the aspirations of the Olympics must be credited to their client, Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Doctoroff, who have a rather large public relations mess on their hands.
Yet, Bloomberg and Doctoroff are savvy enough to hire the best designers. The architecture firm responsible for the stadium design, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) have approached the project with an impressive amount of sensitivity, considering the heavy burden of required additions (convention center expansion, restaurants, shops, cafes, etc.) — which obviously exist to pander to as many people as possible.
KPF has applied a degree of design school didacticism in making the stadium look like neighboring piers. The supporting structures along the upper facades both suggest existing piers and double as energy-generating wind turbines. Considering how much energy will be required to to heat such a large space if the stadium hosts a convention, I guess every bit helps.
Subsequent developments have been an announcement that New York City signed an agreement for all the outdoor advertising space in the City for Summer 2012; then Cablevision entered a much larger bid than the Jets; which forced the Jets to raise theirs, which raised the degree of public bickering; and the MTA’s board — comprised of political appointees, four from the Mayor’s office — selecting the Jets’ proposal. Lawsuits and more posturing are expected.
But whatever happens, you can rest assured that somewhere… somehow… Records will break, someone will fall in love, and neighborhoods will celebrate.