We’ve now seen several Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics logos, with the organisers haunted by claims of plagiarism and the popularity of an unofficial emblem.

An Introduction

For the first time since World War 2, the Olympic Games will not go ahead as planned. Not only has the decision making around postponing the largest multi-sporting event been a point of discussion and controversy but so have the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics logos.

If you aren’t familiar with the tale of Charles Dickens’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his business partner Jacob Marley and three other ghosts on Christmas Eve. They shed light on his fate if he continues with his selfish ways. Unlike the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’, this one isn’t driven by greed but perhaps a series of unfortunate choices. Choices that you can learn from when building a brand and picking a logo! We aren’t here to Bah-Humbug any of the designs but let’s take a look…

The Ghost of Logos Past

The first official logo unveiled in July 2015, was created by Kenjiro Sano. The graphic designer used blocks of silver, gold and black to create the letter T – associated to the words, ‘team’ and ‘tomorrow’ as well as Tokyo. The incorporation of the red sun on the right signifies not only the Japanese flag but also the geographical positioning of the country. Underneath the text he uses a customised version of the Clarendon serif typeface.

The Paralympics symbol made up of the same components of the Olympics logo, was based on the equals sign with two thick lines arranged vertically rather than horizontally. As the universal symbol of equality it represents the values of not only the games but also Japan. These minimalist logos are elegant and clean composed of geometric shapes. One can see the influence of the 1964 Olympics logo designed by Yusaku Kamekura or perhaps a homage to Ikko Tanaka’s work.

Controversy arose when Théâtre de Liège in Belgium accused the Olympic Committee of plagiarising their logo. The theatre and designer (Olivier Debie) sought the advice of copyright lawyers and filed a lawsuit to block the usage of the logo. The logo was scrapped due to fears of it damaging the credibility of the event and submissions opened to the whole of Japan, designers or not.

The Ghost of Logos Present

After over 14,500 submissions, the chosen design was by designer Asao Tokolo, it’s called the “Symbol of the Checkerboard of Harmony”. The logos round shape leaves a space in the middle resembling the Sakura, Tokyo’s flower. The checkered patterned composed of three different size rectangles that signify different nations and cultures and communicate the message of “Unity in Diversity”. Olympic and Paralympic Games seek to promote diversity which translates in this logo. Under the logo, a sans-serif font Din typeface is featured, a more modern and clean choice than the one chosen in the previous design. The Olympic games should now go ahead in 2021 however, it’s been reported that the branding will stay as 2020.

The Ghost of Logos Unofficial

It’s common for other designers to share their take on high-profile designs and sometimes un-official logos can become more popular. In this case, it’s often mistaken for the actual Tokyo 2020 logo! When the interpretation by Manchester-based designer Daren Newman was posted on Twitter, it received over 8,000 retweets and 25,000 likes. The logo has been praised by the general public and in design blogs for its elegance and clever concept of combining the Olympic symbol with the symbolism of the Japanese flag. The typographic logo style displayed in Newman’s design was considered far more popular on social media than the official version.

Whilst the design is elegant and clever, the Olympic logo must adhere to incredibly specific usage guidelines – the rings cannot be warped into other shapes and the width of the rings cannot be adjusted. Unfortunately, as clever as this design is, it could never be used in any official capacity.

The Moral of the Story

Just like the tale of ‘A Christmas Carol’ we can learn something from this story too. This situation presents an opportunity to assess the faux pas of one of the biggest organisations in the world and use it to protect your business and your brand!

Do your research! Look at what your competitors are doing, your brand should be original. You should do your research and ensure you’re not violating someone else’s copyright and/or trademark.

Create brand guidelines! Your branding and concept should be clear to protect the integrity of your brand. From colours to margins and backgrounds these should be outlined in your guidelines – like the guidelines for the Olympic rings! These will give designers and anyone that interacts with your brand clear instruction.

Protect your brand! As we have learnt its possible someone else could produce a similar logo to yours. Trademarking your logo will protect your intellectual property and maintain your brand’s integrity.

Have a message! Your brand should communicate your message, just like the official 2020 Olympic and Paralympic designs. Both past and present represent Japanese culture and equality! Tell your story and help people connect to your brand.

So as in a Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ will this have a happy ending or be a ‘Bah Humbug’? Have the organising committee seen the light and redeemed themselves with the chosen logo or does the unofficial version better capture the Olympic spirit surrounding the event? Hopefully, the organisers that have been passed the torch will have a smoother ride in the coming year and no more ghosts will come along to haunt them. One thing’s for sure, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the decisions that are made in the coming months and look forward to the epilogue.