How the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay lost its way part 2: The presenting partners

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In the second part of a serialisation of Help Me Investigate’s first ebook – 8,000 Holes: How the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay Lost its Way we look at how the presenting partners’ allocation of torchbearer places was handled. You can download the book for free – or choose to pay a donation, with all proceeds going to the Brittle Bone Society – at

Part 2: Getting your money’s worth

Once the Presenting Partners were able to start awarding torchbearer places, each handled their allocation differently.

As the only national presenting partner, Lloyds TSB allocated their places through two UK-wide campaigns: one through Lloyds TSB itself, and another through Bank of Scotland. The bank said they would give the opportunity to “people who have made a difference in their community”.

An analysis of the data on both banks’ official torchbearer sites, however, finds almost 500 of their 1,360 places unaccounted for, and when pressed, the bank admits that:

“Consistent with the other Presenting Partners of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay, Lloyds Banking Group received 17% of the 8000 Torchbearer places – 1360 in total. 85% were made available to the public and 15% were awarded to Lloyds Banking Group’s employees who were nominated by other Bank employees.”

This meant that a further 204 places were not open to the public, putting the total number of places outside the nomination campaigns at 2,112 – over a quarter of all torchbearers.

Coca Cola: “A host of new ambassadors”

The drinks giant Coca Cola, meanwhile, were expressing their desire to “shine a light on the UK’s young people and celebrate the amazing things they get up to every day – from playing sport, to making music; from helping out in their local communities, to protecting the environment”.

Their campaign focused largely on finding 1,300 ‘Future Flames‘, a “young person who uses their passion in areas such as sport and physical activity, music and dance, and community and the environment, to spread happiness in their local communities.”

Sam Feasey at the agency Brand Rapport wrote that the strategy would provide the drinks giant “with a host of new ambassadors and rich bank of content.” Coca Cola predicted about a third of the British population would have seen the Future Flames by the end of the relay.

Judging panels for these symbols of youth included members of rock groups, DJs – and Olympic swimming hopefuls. The Wanted not only sat on one of the juries judging torchbearer nominations, but participated in some ‘ambush marketing’ of their own, informing three successful nominees in person for a video promotion:

In “recognition” of their contribution, these judges got to carry the torch themselves too, also as ‘Future Flames’ – suggesting again that, as with Lloyds TSB’s places, not all of the 1300 nominations were genuinely open to the public. But Coca Cola refused to provide details of all 1300 Flames.

The same pattern could be seen in the Live Positively campaign, which allocated 23 places in the US focused on healthy living, community and the environment. 10 of these places went to ‘Exceptional Teens’ – more young people selected through a stringent and detailed public nomination process; but three were given to public figures from sport and fitness; and ten came from Coca Cola itself and organisations running programs sponsored by the drinks giant. It was difficult to tell whether Coca Cola’s decision to award torchbearer places to people heading up Coca Cola-funded obesity studies and health campaigns represented ‘public’ nominations open to anyone, or invitations open to a few.

When asked about the figures the company would not provide detailed breakdowns of how places were allocated, but did say the following:

“As Presenting Partner of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay, Coca-Cola has 1,350 official London 2012 Olympic Torchbearer places with over 90% of our allocation going to members of the public through our Future Flames campaign.

“A small number of our allocation has been given to campaign ambassadors, and our remaining places have been given to our partner organisations such as StreetGames and NUS [both of whom provided the first Future Flame nominees], and to some of our employees to recognise the positive role they play in their communities.”

Samsung: “Everyone’s Olympic Games”

Samsung’s strategy for allocating torchbearer places was the most ambitious of the three presenting partners.

The Korean telecomms giant had been disappointed that the torch relay had been scaled back to cross fewer countries after protests disrupted the Beijing Olympics relay. “We prefer international because we can contact more customers and people around the world,” said Sunny Hwang, Samsung’s VP-head of worldwide sports marketing.

But the company made up for this with a staggering number of campaigns across 58 countries. 10 torchbearers came from Belgium, where a Facebook campaign attracted 11,000 nominations. A promotional video showcases their genuinely inspirational stories…

…but fails to mention that *only eight* came through the public campaign, while two came from telecomms company Belgacom. 18 came from another campaign in Poland, nine from Kuwait, and just one through a TV show in Australia (their two other Australian torchbearers were the the country’s High Commissioner to London and Samsung’s Group Senior Product Manager for Household Appliances).

In the UK members of the public were encouraged to go to a Vodafone store to make their nominations. Samsung teamed up with Metro International to produce “a special glossy, high quality bag wrap which would promote the campaign and drive people to Vodafone stores”. Distribution locations were “handpicked for their close location to Vodafone stores.”

Publicly, the company said they were going to give their places to “ordinary people who are an inspiration to others” and nominations would be reviewed by a judging panel. At the launch event in London the company branded the campaign ‘Everyone’s Olympic Games’ – but it clearly wasn’t for everyone.

A statement about the Gulf Region campaign on Samsung’s website added that the company would also be selecting “well-known regional personalities who have helped better their community through a closed-selection process.” These included a radio personality from Ghana, an Ethiopean businessman and the MD of a Kenyan supermarket chain. In Korea, actor and singer Lee Seung-gi, reported one local news outlet “was chosen as he has modeled for the company’s commercials”. Another news outlet in Kenya described their local nominees frankly: “They were nominated by Samsung Electronics East Africa to represent the country and market this region.”

In Canada, the “Pursue your Passions” campaign to identify seven inspirational Canadians saw more than half going to winners of the Samsung Mobilers competition, “whose members act as social media ambassadors for Samsung”. These inspirational Canadians, it seemed, would have to work for their torches.

As the campaigns multiplied, it became difficult to see how transparent the nomination processes were, or how ‘general’ the public was that they were intended to target. When asked about the allocation of places Samsung would not give details on the specific campaigns and numbers from each, or the criteria for judging them, but said that:

“Samsung has recruited Torchbearers who have ‘gone the extra mile’ from around the world as part of its ambition to make London 2012 Everyone’s Olympic Games. Approximately 90% of Samsung’s Torchbearers were carefully selected from the public through our global Torchbearer recruitment campaign, which searched for people who have contributed to the local communities and have inspired others to achieve their potential.”

But if only 90% of Samsung’s torchbearers were selected from the public, this meant that more places had been allocated through closed processes.

Part 3 – on just how ‘public’ torchbearer places were – is published tomorrow now live.

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  1. Pingback: How the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay lost its way part 1: Jack Binstead’s story | Help Me Investigate the Olympics

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