Salt Lake City gets gold medal for taste

March 03, 2002 11:00 pm

Salt Lake City gets gold medal for taste

Salt Lake City was a definite winner in the good taste Olympics. Imagine if instead of the unforgettable Olympian murals as a TV backdrop on downtown buildings you had seen huge ads for Perkys soda pop or Dwarf automobiles or whatever. Imagine if everywhere the TV cameras went for example, the background for Sarah Hughes magnificent gold-medal performance in womens figure skating you had seen all sorts of ad signs vying for attention: Speedy shoes, One-Minute Worldwide Delivery Co., or a brand of soup that carries the same fill-up capacity as a Thanksgiving dinner.

Those who watched, or attended, the Atlanta Summer Games of 1996 will remember an incredible contrast to the tasteful Salt Lake City approach. Atlanta gave the world a virtual smorgasbord of pitilessly efficient capitalism. Corporate logos were everywhere except on athletes foreheads.

Nothing against capitalism; it makes the world go around. But Salt Lake Citys approach is probably closer to the image we as Americans would like to project to the world. It is an approach of integrity, and is an important step in the right direction in cleaning up our image that greed conquers all.

Bigitis almost struck the Salt Lake City Olympics during the planning stages. The disease was only a bobsled run away when advertisers got word of the Olympian murals and wanted to drape buildings in downtown with 20-story-tall ads. Imagine how that would have looked behind NBCs capable host, Bob Costas. Yes, there are First Amendment free speech rights. And certainly, advertisers have the right to get the word out about their products; their very survival depends on an aggressive and targeted campaign. But there is also good taste. In this case, good taste prevailed.

It was probably a tough decision for Salt Lake City Olympics organizers not to sell every available space to the highest bidder. As always, money talks. But at the same time it was the kind of decision that needed to be made and seemed right. Salt Lake Olympics Committee Chief Mitt Romney convinced sponsors that subtle advertising would have a bigger impact, which TV viewers of ice skating or hockey noticed by not having the entire arena ringed with signs like at a professional baseball game. This was not some kind of noneconomical moral stand but an attempt to make the games look less like a first-rate flea market and more like an important meeting of the worlds peoples and athletes coming together in peace to further international connections.

And what about the constant bombardment of advertising messages? These days you find advertising on park benches, grocery carts, bathrooms, nearly everywhere. Maybe it is time for advertisers to gear back and focus their campaigns on traditional media.

The bottom line is, advertising works, and the Olympics provides a great place for corporations to get the word out about their products and services. It is great to be associated with gold medals and successful performances. But Salt Lake City proved that advertising works best when done tastefully.