London is as ready as it will ever be. The city has had seven years to prepare for the 2012 Olympics, and, on July 27, the games commence.
Marketers have also spent years planning for the event, and are hoping to maximize their brands' impact during the games, doing their best to engage sports fans by harnessing the good will, passion, fun, triumph and drama that will inevitably accompany the Olympics.
But with the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) fiercely guarding both its own brand and sponsor privileges, the presence of the Olympics around town has been relatively restrained so far.
It's very different from the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June, when the whole city was awash with Union Jacks and royal memorabilia. Instead, the Olympic brand is most obviously present in the transport network -- where bright-pink "London 2012" signage dominates -- while the famous five-ring symbol is emblazoned on central London's main roads, marking the Olympic Route Network lanes for athletes and VIPs.
The torch relay, which claims to have brought the Olympic flame to within one hour of 95% of the U.K. population, has been the dominant focus for building excitement about the games. Coca-Cola, Samsung, and Lloyds TSB are the "presenting partners" for the relay, leading the procession around the country with their big, bright, branded buses during the 70-day marathon, which included celebrity torch bearers like WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell http://adage.com/article/global-news/sorrell-carry-torch-relay-london-olympics/235943/.
When the procession came through Stoke Newington in Hackney -- the London borough that is home to the Olympic Park -- the crowd's cheers were reserved for the torch-bearers, for an impostor riding a bike carrying a "down with Barclays" slogan, and even the police (whom Hackney residents were throwing bottles at during riots this time last year), while the Coca-Cola and Samsung buses were greeted with silence, and the Lloyds TSB bus was booed, a victim of the general ill-feeling toward the banking industry.
Coca-Cola, focusing on its "Move to the Beat" global campaign, has backed its torch-relay sponsorship with a series of free "Future Flames" concerts, held at various cities around the U.K., and culminating in a huge concert in London's Hyde Park for 80,000 people, with tickets costing just $23.
Once the opening ceremony officially kick off the games' opening on Friday, sponsors' presence across the capital (and the rest of the country) will go into overdrive.
Coca-Cola has choreographed surprise dance performances, planned re-enactments of medal-winning moments, installed 260 recycling bins, and set up a series of makeovers for its iconic Piccadilly Circus neon sign. At the Olympic Park, Coca Cola's Beatbox pavilion has musical pads fixed to the walls so that people can "play" as they climb.
McDonald's, the official restaurant of the Olympics, is expanding its "We All Make the Games" campaign, led by Leo Burnett, London, by sending out crews to film fans, as well as asking them to upload their own video onto Facebook. The best content will be incorporated into a parade of new, continually refreshed, TV and outdoor ads.
British Airways has captured the public imagination with the "#homeadvantage" campaign by BBH, London, which has the surprising tagline, "Don't fly. Support Team GB," and urges people to stay at home for the Olympics. The airline's "up my street " site lets users customize its blockbuster TV spot by inputting their postal codes to see a plane flying down their street , and has proved a huge viral success.
Often it is the smaller, more engaging ideas that bring alive the Olympic spirit and create a valuable lasting memory. Adidas has spent $150 million on sponsoring the games, but its biggest publicity coup so far came from a stunt in a photo booth at a shopping center, where England soccer legend David Beckham surprised subjects when he strolled in to have his photo taken with them. The pictures -- one showing a little boy who burst into tears at the sight of his hero -- went viral, and secured space for Adidas in every newspaper the next day.
The city of London is one of the biggest brands on show during the games, and it is gearing up to showcase itself to the world. Innovision, an independent agency specializing in large-scale live events, has had a big hand in dressing landmarks to impress the visitors. The major bridges across the Thames river will be lit up with colorful displays, and Tower Bridge -- the most spectacular of them all -- is home to an installation of Olympic rings.
Working with Mayor Boris Johnson, Innovision will light up the Houses of Parliament for the first time, projecting Olympic-themed movies onto the historic buildings for three hours every night.
Andrew Douglass, CEO of Innovision, said, "It's a tangible demonstration that London is one of the greatest cities in the world, with bold, innovative, impactful entertainment to delight visitors. The brief has always been to push back the boundaries and to be innovative. London is such a big city that we need to work on a grand scale to achieve the kind of impact and cut-through we're looking for."
The mayor of London's office and the Royal Parks have set up Live Sites in London, creating venues where people can watch sport on big screens, with a little help from sponsors to add to the fun. BT, for example, will showcase live bands and give people the opportunity to win tickets to the games, to meet sporting legends, or just relax and use the wi-fi.
London ad agencies are also getting into the Olympic Spirit. McCann Worldgroup, which is LOCOG's agency, held a rooftop party in the London sunshine this week, complete with competitions, a genuine Olympic torch and medals, and guest appearances by Olympic athletes. In its ground floor window, McCann has installed a mechanical gerbil, which answers questions about the games.
Ogilvy & Mather is very close to the Olympic Park, and the agency has introduced flexible working hours during the Olympics so that people can avoid peak travel times. People who arrive early or stay late will get breakfast or dinner, and those who work from home will get dedicated IT service. There will also be a room set aside with a big screen where employees can bring clients and family to watch sports events, and the biggest treat will be a VIP view of the opening ceremony fireworks from Ogilvy's panoramic 10th floor windows.
Havas Sports & Entertainment has opened the HS&E House, with talks from thought leaders in the global sports community, a big screen for sporting action and the odd glass of champagne.
Other agencies are going for more low-key options. Independent creative agency Fold7 is hosting its own version of the Olympics, with sports including an egg-and-spoon race, a three-legged race, and a slow bike race. M&C Saatchi, meanwhile, has created a fleet of "Maurice Bikes" -- named after founder Maurice Saatchi and intended to rival the mayor of London's popular "Boris Bikes" -- to help employees with travel to and from work.