With the huge wall of press, PR, blog posts and the like surrounding the Ralph Lauren Olympic uniforms debacle, why on earth would we be compelled to add to the pile?
For one, we’re taking this on from a branding perspective (although that, too, has been heavily discussed), and the fact we’re surprised it happened at all.
We did see the glossy cover of Newsweek displaying a male model posing proudly in the official uniforms Ralph Lauren designed. Why the big mounted polo player plastered on the jacket front? This was the Olympics and American athletes would be wearing them. This wasn’t the place to be promoting the brand of a multi-mega apparel corporation.
The Ralph Lauren brand, besides clothing, is one that exudes and exemplifies the sports few of us can afford to play. Like yacht racing, rowing, golf and of course, polo. It’s elitist and exclusive.
The Olympic brand, on the other hand, is inclusive and has its own definable spirit. The games bring together the world in a way like no other. Olympic rules are extremely strict about keeping a level playing field. Its not a place to display religious or cultural differences. It’s not a place for protest. It’s purely about sport and fair competition no matter where you come from or what you believe.
By now we’ve heard about the banning of headscarves and derogatory tweeting as a means of keeping that level playing field. One of the more famous outcomes demonstrating this was at the 1968 Olympics hosted by Mexico City. After receiving their medals, two African American athletes, John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave the Black Power salute, a raised fist gesture as a sign of protest. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) response stated it was a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit. Carlos and Smith had to relinquish their medals as retribution.
Given this, the Ralph Lauren corporation should have known better than to slap its own logo in the face of the Olympic brand. We won’t even go into the whole Made In China issue.
What we would have liked to have seen happen was to have the American Olympic committee select an unknown, up-in-coming talented designer or team of designers to create the uniforms for our country’s competing athletes. That would have been more in the spirit with the Olympics and its brand. We’d like to think that the honor of being asked to represent the United States of America would be enough for “said unknown designer” (or team) to not impulsively make the move to incorporate their own brand front and center on the uniforms. We’d like to think that they would set aside name recognition as a way to positively promote it. Certainly the unveiling of the uniforms themselves would ushering them from being unknown to known, in a deserving, dignified manner — much like the hard training, disciplined and passionate athletes stepping up on stage receiving their gold.