Building 2004 memories, at a profit

Products officially licensed to bear the Olympic Games insignia are ready to set their own record. Useful objects spread the message of the Games while bringing in healthy sums of money. Spearheading the effort are six official Olympic Games stores in Attica, one in Geneva (near Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based) and one in Florida. Kathimerini visited the Plaka store. The leading characters in the sales campaign are none other than Athena and Phevos. The mascots, whose first appearance sparked much discussion and criticism, feature in practically all the products on sale, whether on T-shirts, badges, underwear, aprons or copybooks, proving themselves to be the strongest marketing card. Children are keen on the products; at the beginning of the school year, they bought schoolbags and pencil cases depicting the mascots. Tourists, fascinated by the two strange figures, try to pronounce their names, ask what they represent, laugh at their outsized feet, and eventually buy them. One third of the officially licensed products sold so far bear the images of Athena and Phevos. The Athens 2004 Organizing Committee (ATHOC) designated seven themes for the products: Sport with Mascots, Environment, Olympiad throughout Greece, Paralympics, Values, Ancient-Modern and Marathon. All the stores are decorated according to strict rules stipulated by the company that manages them. The window displays, signs and products are all laid out to resemble a museum display rather than a store. The wide range of products includes computer accessories, board games, clothing, jewelry, umbrellas, hats, perfume, posters, artworks, glasses, sheets, tablecloths, towels, dolls and mascots. The prices are a pleasant surprise, being no higher than those for similar products in other stores. The pins, many of which are collectors’ items, have pride of place. Collecting has never become the craze in Greece that it has abroad, but clever promotion could make the pins into must-have items. They are certainly an inexpensive way to express an interest in the Games. On the 13th of each month, limited numbers of new badges are issued showing how many months and days remain till the Games begin, and they sell out immediately. Judging by the locations they have chosen (such as the airport, Korai Square and Plaka), the stores are targeting foreigners who have already visited Greece or will do so this spring and summer. The majority of the customers in the store in Plaka during Kathimerini’s visit were foreigners. Greeks shop at the stores on special occasions, mainly during festive seasons, when they buy all sorts of gifts with an Olympic theme. Before Saint Valentine’s Day, for example, there was a special collection featuring Athena and Phevos sitting on red hearts, and there will be another special set at Easter. There is no future for the stores after the Games. They will close when the Paralympics end, and the products will not be on sale after the end of the year, when Beijing will begin its Olympic turn. Regardless of marketing strategies, quality, price and preferences, anything that carries the Olympic Games insignia will eventually acquire its own sentimental value. To some it will recall Athens’s great rendezvous with history, to others some special personal moments during a long-gone Athenian August.