Branding Russia anew with the Sochi Olympics logo

These days, controversy surrounding an Olympics logo is par for the course – who could forget the fracas surrounding London 2012’s day-glo glpyhs? The logo for Sochi 2014, designed by the Moscow branch of Swiss studio Interband, is no exception. A logo with no pictorial symbol? Olympic blasphemy!

SOC_Olympic logoRGB

The official Sochi Olympics logo has no pictorial symbol of its own apart from the standard Olympic rings

Indeed, there is no pictorial representation to be found here (unless you see the “sochi”/”2014” reflection as a reference to the Caucasus mountains meeting their reflection in the Black Sea – but that’s a stretch). This was a purposeful choice by the selection committee, which ruled out a more conventional logo proposal by Russian studio Transformer in favor of the Interbrand design.

Alternate Sochi Logo

This rejected proposal presents an icon in a more conventional manner

The significance of this move goes deeper than one might expect. Just as the Olympics is more about national pride (/competition) than athleticism alone, so the Olympic logo is not just a brand for the games, but a brand for the host country. That futuristic-looking, digitally-oriented logo says “welcome to the modern Russia” – or at least tries to. Here’s our interpretation.

Leaving the (recent) past behind

The Sochi logo articulates the desire for a New Russia: based in modern principles and ready to be a part of today’s digital technology-based global economy, but still distinctly Russian.

This requires a certain distancing from the past – most dramatically, from the days of the Soviet Union. Comparing the Olympic logo from the 1980 Moscow games to the Sochi logo brings this contrast into stark relief.


The 1980 Olympics logo is decidedly Soviet: red with the iconic five-point star, it also resembles a space shuttle

If there could be said to have been any “branding” going on in the Soviet Union, it was entirely unilateral: rather than appealing to consumer psychology (a Western notion), it echoed the codified symbolism of the state. Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, it is not uncommon to see residual Soviet elements in major Russian brands. Consider the film production company Mosfilm and Russia’s biggest airline, Aeroflot:


The old Mosfilm logo (left) employs the Soviet trope of one individual standing up for the might of the nation. The modern logo is in a more modern style, but retains the same imagery


The old aeroflot logo (top) focuses on a Soviet hammer and sickle. The modern version (below) actually contains the old one, in addition to Russia’s post-Soviet flag

For a Russian branding panel aiming to leave the past behind, old-world industries like the arts, manufacturing, transport and oil do not offer too far of an escape.

Embracing an online future

The digital technology industry, on the other hand, promises the right sort of modern image. Native to the post-Soviet era, Russian internet companies typically embrace cosmopolitan design standards while remaining distinctly Russian.

This is a country where 37% of the population uses a smartphone and an even greater number actively engages in social media – but they’re less likely to use American companies like Google and Facebook than Russian counterparts like Yandex and vKontakte.


The logo for Yandex, Russia’s search engine, is simplistic and born digital, incorporating a nationalist color scheme but no political or cultural signifiers beyond that


vKontakte, the Russian answer to Facebook, has a sleek modern style

It’s no wonder, then, that the Sochi selection committee decided to emphasize digital technology so prominently in the Olympic logo, adopting a similarly minimal, text-based style and incorporating the web domain “.ru” – making this the first time that a web address has been included in the actual logo of the Olympic games. With the whole world poised to watch, comment upon, or read about the 2014 Olympic games online, this seems perfectly natural.

Reclaiming tradition

While the logotype-cum-web address is the center of attention when it comes to Sochi’s branding, it is in fact accompanied by some other, strikingly different elements, such as the patterns below:


The diamond patterning that will accompany the Sochi logo on flags and uniforms at the games

The motifs in these swatches will appear on the Russian team’s official uniforms, flags and banners around the games, and occasionally fill in the characters of the logo. The design here, contributed by the sponsor BOSCO Sports, is based on traditional quilting patterns and, in particular, a form of Russian design called Khokhloma.

A folk craft dating back to the 17th century, Khokhloma is seen as a quintessential element of traditional Russian visual culture.


Wooden bowls decorated in the Khokhloma style

Richer than it might at first seem, the Sochi branding scheme thus weds two seemingly disparate, yet compatible elements: a digital type-based web domain, rooted in the 21st century, and elements of traditional folk craft, rooted in the pre-modern era. They converge in that each represents the possibility of a Russian culture that is entirely divorced from the failed communist experiment that defined almost a century.


Both elements of the Sochi 2014 branding, in action

The Sochi Olympics, and their logo, represent a distinct opportunity for Russia. As a country still in the thick of change, it is utilizing its host year as a chance to show the world as well as its own citizens a new national identity that looks to tradition and the future together. The hope seems to be that this identity will associate Russia with the contemporary tech economy while still giving Russians the pleasing sense of a shared past.

Whether this strategy will succeed remains to be seen. Let the games begin!

Considering the apparent intentions of the official logo design for the Sochi Olympics, which design do you like better – the current one, or the rejected proposal by studio Transformer?

Sochi Logos


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Olympic mascots contest: the gold, silver and bronze winners
In defense of the London 2012 olympic logo
Monthly design news: Olympic hopefuls and Lacoste’s abstract revamp
Presenting the winner and top designs from the Brazilian Word Cup Team fan contest!

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