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The Commercialization of Olympic Mascots

Aug 5, 2008
The mascots of the Olympic Games are probably one of the best ways for the host city to market itself. Sure, there are official slogans, songs and logos that brand each host city as unique but the marketing strategy of recent Olympics rests primarily on the mascots.

The Olympic mascots did not appear until the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. In that particular Olympics, a little cartoon man on skis known as Schuss appeared on pins and other small toys. He became the very first unofficial mascot of the Olympics. Ever since, with the exception of the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo Japan, other host cities came up with their own "people friendly" symbol to represent their Games.

The original purpose of an Olympic mascot was to give an extra boost to the cultural identity of the host country. Animals native to the area were usually picked to symbolize the Games but stylistic figures and symbols have also been used for representation.

The first mascot to hit it "big" was Misha, a small Russian bear from the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. The smiling bear was depicted as wearing a belt striped with the colors of the Olympic rings complete with the interlocking circles as the belt buckle. Misha turned out to be a huge success and even had his own animated cartoon. His cute and cuddliness appealed to kids and no wonder, as he was designed by Russian children's book illustrator, Victor Chizhikov. Misha appeared in various merchandise such as plush dolls, t-shirts and keychains. The floodgates have been open ever since to market Olympic collectibles.

Despite the commercialism of the Olympic mascots, the essence of representing the host country still remains. A lot of thought goes into the design process. For instance, famed Chinese artist Han Meilin designed a set of 5 mascots chosen for the Beijing Olympics. Their names are Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, Nini. Taking the first syllable of their names, it spells "Beijing huanying ni", or "Beijing Welcomes You". Moreover, not only does each mascot represent a colored Olympic ring, but they also represent elements and superstitions strongly rooted in the Chinese culture.

Beibei is a blue Chinese sturgeon representing the element of water. She also symbolizes prosperity.

Jingjing is a black Chinese panda representing the element of wood. He is the personification of happiness.

Huanhuan is represents the element of fire. He is the Olympic Flame and he has the color red, denoting passion.

Yingying is a lively Tibetan antelope. He is also the epitome of good health. His element is earth and he is the color yellow.

Nini is a green swallow. Her element is air and she brings good fortune.

More cultural references can be seen in the headgear of each mascot which were inspired by ancient Chinese artifacts, dynasties and costumes.

Despite the fact that the Olympics have been highly commercialized, thoughtful artwork combined with good marketing still come into play.
About the Author
Mariam Ma is a freelance writer for Olympic Blvd where you can get Fuwa dolls and other Beijing Olympic souvenirs.
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