Last week I read an article by Peter Madden in Advertising Age that, to me, carried criticism of the promotion for the 2008 Beijing Olympic games to an uncomfortable level. Although I agree that the “hype” for the games is a little vanilla, I simply have to remember what (and whom) they’re promoting – sport, athletes and honor. I think Mr. Madden lost sight of that.

Madden blasted the coverage, the commercials and the creative behind the campaign – from concept to print and on to the NBC broadcast coverage. And then, completely out of left field, he decided to cross a personal line and aim at the events and the participants themselves.

“I get it: 8.08.08. … Cue the Morgan Freeman voiceover as we watch cheesy slow-motion shots of athletes being awarded, competing, etc. with music that’s supposed to be dramatic. Oh, the humanity.”

Side note: That’s Visa’s commercials (see below).

“That doesn’t mean I’m not impressed with the athletic prowess of those involved in the Olympics, but really, swimming? Track and field? I think I’d rather watch curling.”

And then he took that step beyond.

“Imagine if the “Michael Jordan” of the Olympics you had to brand and market was Michael Phelps? Just the sound of his voice is enough to lull even my sleepless 2-and-a-half-month-old to the crib. I can only assume they did numerous takes of his voiceover for the spot they keep running on NBC. And that was the best they could get? He sounds like he’s still underwater.”

I was shocked, and it seems as though some of Mr. Madden’s other readers were too. As one reader commented, the Olympics are more about competition

“…built on Greek ideals of the nobility and honor of individual participation and representation of one’s country…”

We’re not promoting the Super Bowl. It’s not Air Jordan and the 20th NBA title for the Chicago Bulls. It’s not even NASCAR. It’s amateur athletes (kids) competing in the name of honor and sportsmanship. You can’t underwrite that with Budweiser and Doritos sponsorship.

So, Peter Madden hates Michael Phelps. Or at least he thinks he’s boring. Or maybe he just doesn’t like swimming. Or maybe he’s harboring some past angst from bullies picking on him for being the scrawny, sun burnt, redheaded kid at the swimming pool. Who knows? All I could tell is Mr. Madden seems to expect some kind of Madison Avenue generated super personality instead of a human being (Human? Have you seen Phelps in the water?!?).

So, let’s not pick on the kids for bad advertising. (Okay, so Dara Torres isn’t such a kid anymore.) Let’s not pick on the kids for carrying out a tradition of honor and sportsmanship that crosses all international boundaries, politics and policies.

Instead, let’s celebrate the idea that, for a few days in August, we get to watch a select few athletes compete in the sports that they love. Sports that define who they are and who they’ll be for the rest of their lives. Gold, silver, bronze or dead last – they’ve already won the ultimate prize. They get to play, if just for one event, with the rest of the world on a level field (swimming pool, track, or whatever) honorably and without prejudice. Maybe Mr. Madden could learn something from that?

Until next time, here’s some inspiration:
Visa Olympics
Bob Beamon
Derek Redmond
Kerri Strug

Keep Cooking!