Overblown advertising cheapens the Olympic experience

Like thousands of others in New West, I made my way to Queen’s Park for the Torch Relay festivities on Tuesday. Lukewarm to the Olympics thus far, I thought that I might catch the spirit once in the presence of the Flame and thousands of others cheering for Canada and the Games. I was proud of the turnout in New West, but I came away somewhat more turned off the Olympics after having seen the flame go past.

The Torch handoff aboard the Paddlewheeler. Photo: Graham Ballantyne
The good: Torch handoff aboard the Paddlewheeler. The bad: tacky sloganeering by Olympic sponsors. Photo: Graham Ballantyne

Before the flame came truck after truck of logo-emblazoned vehicles and legions of paid street teams chanting advertising slogans and handing out branded trash. It cheapened the Olympics for me, and I wish I hadn’t come out to see it.

I am not against corporate sponsorship of the Olympic Games. I understand that it is necessary to offset the cost to taxpayers – and done right, could even enhance the experience. But too much focus on the sponsors is to the detriment of the sport.

I am a lover of parades and public festivals of all kinds. I love the feeling of being out in the fresh air, surrounded by your neighbours and together enjoying the creative expression of our community. The corporate sponsors’ participation is usually only a small part of the fun. This restraint is what keeps the event enjoyable. It’s not an intrinsic problem with the logos, but because advertising-driven participation is too often void of creativity and joy. Paying a bunch of twinkies to dance on a truck covered in your logo detracts from the hard work and passion that makes these kinds of events so wonderful.

I held off posting about my feelings about the event because I thought perhaps I was the lone Negative Nancy out there who was this disturbed by the overt sloganeering by sponsors like Coke and RBC. This morning, I read Chris Bryan’s editorial in the Newsleader, which expresses the same sentiment:

Arriving at this gorgeous park of ours for the event, I was prepared to feel that pride that comes out at so many of this city’s events—after all, we do “community” so well.

And then there I was, among this crowd of people, cheering “YES!” to answer a question of, not am I excited” or “proud.” Not even “honoured.”

Happy?

Then I realized Coke’s slogan is “Open Happiness.”

And then a video popped on the big screen with the bouncing Coke logo, imploring us to sing along: “The sun will come back tomorrow/There’s a message in the bottle…”

And later, we were treated to the “He shoots, he scores” ad from Coke that I confess actually gives me the shivers (in a good way). A little later, the MC said “Are you ready to create a better Canada?” which is apparently part of RBC’s program to encourage people to do something for a better country. Great idea. But then he went on to shout “Let’s do it with RBC! Put up those RBC tambourines and shake them around!”

And later: “RBC! That’s us!”

It felt to me that some of the big-name Olympic sponsors, Coke and RBC in particular, are looking at the Games sponsorship as just another ad opportunity, like buying space at the Superbowl. But to me, the Olympics ought to remain true to the ideal of humans striving to achieve their best in sport and in spirit. Corporations who see their sponsorship as a way of upholding those ideals are welcome. Advertising that distracts from the core experience is not.


Torch route through New Westminster revealed

Locals have been speculating about the probable path of the Torch route through New Westminster for some time, but today the real deal was revealed.

A bird’s eye view of the path of the Olympic Flame through New Westminster when it arrives on February 9 is now visible on the VANOC website (screenshots below).

Bird's Eye view of the Torch route through New West, via the VANOC website. This is as close as we can see, so far.
Bird's Eye view of the Torch route through New West, via the VANOC website. This is as close as we can see, so far.

As you can see, the Flame arrives in New West via Royal Ave, and will pass City Hall before going up Sixth St, then past Royal City Centre on Sixth Ave, turning on to 8th St. (past Moody Park), then on to 8th Ave by Mercer Stadium and NWSS. The Flame will then pass through Queen Park along 2nd St. to the park itself. There will be a big celebration in Queen’s Park from 10:15am – 12:15pm, and then the Torch relay continues downhill to Columbia St. and on to the Quay. From the Quay, torchbearer Laura Cuthbert will carry the Flame to Queensborough via paddlewheeler.

Part one of the Torch route through New Westminster: from City Hall, up to NWSS, through Queen's Park and down to Columbia St. and the Quay.
Part one of the Torch route through New Westminster: from City Hall, up to NWSS, through Queen's Park and down to Columbia St. and the Quay.
Part two of the Torch Route: the torchbearer boards a paddlewheeler at the Quay and crosses the Fraser River to Queensborough.
Part two of the Torch Route: the torchbearer boards a paddlewheeler at the Quay and crosses the Fraser River to Queensborough.

Laura is one of the two torchbearers nominated by the City (all other torchbearers were selected following application to Coca Cola and RBC, the corporate sponsors of the 2010 Winter Olympics torch relay). The paddlewheeler segment will become the latest addition to the unique modes of travel that the torch has been on over the course of the longest relay in Olympic history.

Tourism New West hopes to see lots of local Olympic supporters wearing red in Queen’s Park for the big party and lining the streets along the Torch route on February 9.  The city’s even got a Facebook event invitation out there, if you want to declare your attendance to your Facebook friends!

Who plans to be there?

Questions from readers: What’s the torch route?

Today we asked our readers on Facebook and Twitter if they had any New West questions that we could try to answer. I’ll be working through the list over the next few days. Today, we start with an easy one: Celine Pitfield-Heidrich asked us something that I’m sure many local Olympic fans have wondered about: what is the parade route of the Olympic torch?

The quick answer is … we don’t know yet! I asked Jay Young, Chair of the Olympic Torch Celebration Committee, and he tells me that VANOC won’t be releasing the route for the Olympic Torch run through New Westminster until two weeks before February 9th.

I’ve asked to be let in on the big secret when the city’s other local media are notified, and we’ll let y’all know as soon as we do!

Until then, just for fun: what do you think the route should be? I’m going to bet it’ll be down Columbia Street, with an afterparty in Hyack Square, but perhaps a more picturesque route would be through Queen’s Park, with free hot chocolate for all!

Update: Tourism New West says on its Facebook page, “It’s coming! The Olympic Torch will be arriving in New West on Tues Feb 9th,2010. Huge celebration in Queens Park from 10:15am-12:15pm! Come and line the streets as the torch will pass through the beautiful streets of the Royal City!!” – looks like my second guess may be closer.

And speaking of Olympics … what will you do during those two weeks? Who’s got tickets? Who’s gettin’ outta dodge? Who’s making a killing renting out their basement suites? Will and I will be hunkered down in New West, avoiding SkyTrain and downtown – and renting a room to distant relatives who couldn’t find hotel accommodation while they’re in town doing business during the Olympics!