I went to the Olympics again yesterday. This time I took BestMate to watch the hockey. And then we explored some "partner showcases".
Several international corporations have forked out a small fortune to sponsor London 2012. I suspect they haven't paid enough, given all the freebie tickets they get, plus their legally-sanctioned stranglehold on all related advertising opportunities. For visitors to the Olympic Park there's no escape, as eight of the Olympic sponsors have their own pavilions on site. Once you've been to your event, and eaten, they hope to entice you inside on the basis there isn't very much else to do. But are they worth a visit, or should you go and enjoy the gardens instead?
Here's my unbranded guide to Partner Showcases in the Olympic Park, ranked from best to worst.
Gold) Park Live Presented by Major Airline Park Live succeeds because it's about sport. Indeed, it's the only place in the entire Olympic Park to keep up with what's going on in the rest of the Games. In conjunction with LOCOG, a giant two-sided video screen has been plonked in the centre of the River Lea, with spectator space on two landscaped lawns on either bank. There's something similar in Hyde Park and Victoria Park, but they have tacky marketing sideshows attached, whereas here it's just grass and flowers. If Rebecca's in the pool and you've not got tickets, you can watch her here. If Bradley's getting a medal, you can watch him here. OK, so every now and then the action cuts away to adverts for Major Airline, but nowhere near as often as you might expect. OK, so presenters insist on stalking the crowd and trying to whip up enthusiasm, but again, not so often. Staff hand out Union Jack plastic mats to sit on, and Team GB temporary tattoos for children, while stocks last. On Saturday there was plenty of space, and the lawns were pristine. By yesterday the grass was rammed, with folk squished into all the contoured lawns, nearly bursting out across the surrounding flowerbeds and cheering every British triumph. To all the companies below, if you'd made your pavilion more about sport than about yourselves, you might have been more successful.
Silver) Fizzy-drink Beatbox It's the most eye-catching pavilion in the Park, a whirlwind of red and white rectangles swirling around a central cylinder. The Fizzy-drink company asked two up-and-coming architects to design it, and the gamble's paid off. They've also hired a cast of hundreds - mostly unemployed drama students by the looks of it - who get to squeeze every ounce of acting ability into chivvying the crowd along. You'll spot them around the Park in their red t-shirts, often congregated in groups doing silly things. On Saturday morning the Beatbox was desperate for customers, but there have been queues to enter ever since. Yesterday afternoon's queue was 50 minutes long (if you see the entire corral full, assume an hour). The redshirts keep visitors entertained throughout their wait (which is no mean feat when most are under the age of 10), by milking the fact that worship of Team GB is the country's new religion. The Beatbox is based around a song by Mark Ronson which sampled sporting sounds from around the world, although it didn't trouble the charts, peaking at number 55. Each small group ascends the spiral ramp around the venue, supposedly assembling the sounds piece by piece, by stroking specially-marked panels on the way up. It's a little rushed, and probably too complex for most youngsters to grasp, but they'll enjoy making the noises all the same. On the roof are two treats. First the view across the Park, and then an opportunity to have your photo taken holding an official Olympic torch. Don't register that photo downstairs, take the code number home and collect it from the website (where it's perfectly OK to enter a false email address). By cropping the download I now have a sponsor-free image of me, in front of the Stadium, holding a torch, which is pretty cool. Each journey through the Beatbox takes about 30 minutes, and ends with with a free bottle of fizz which you're invited to drink at a "party"on the ground floor. This is the least subtle part of the proceedings, aimed at associating the fizzy drink brand with fun, especially in the minds of children. And yes the whole thing's pure indoctrination, but it's done with such bubbly enthusiasm, and it'll keep your kids busy for ages.
Bronze) Oil Company – Fuelling the Future It's hard for a petrochemical multinational to ally itself to sporting prowess, but Oil Company has had a good go. First they've worked out that the public likes nothing better than a big mirror to photograph themselves in, so they've stuck one of those on the front of their stand. Then they've cooked up some mumbo jumbo about offsetting the carbon footprint of your journey to the Games (they were quite keen to sign me up, even though I'd walked). And then they've created a swirly theatre with images of athletes interspersed with deep sea drilling rigs and the like. The gimmick is that the ring of seats rotates, which is entertaining enough for the 12 minutes the film lasts, but no thriller. Bronze only by default.
4) German Car Group Pavilion If you like cars, woo, here are some cars. On entrance you're given a wristband, whose colour denotes how long you'll be forced to wait in the opening exhibit before being allowed through to the theatre. In the theatre they'll show you four souped up adverts for cars, allegedly with an Olympic link. And then you're allowed out and upstairs to view the latest vehicles in the company's range ("please take photos, you're free to take photos, please stick them on Facebook" etc). If you don't like cars enjoy the view from the roof, and the free set of Top Trumps cards on the way out (oh, more cars).
5) TV Setmaker's Full HD 3D Theatre This pavilion has a prime position in the Park, and looks like it ought to be fun. I mean, HD 3D Theatre, that's proper 21st century. Instead queueing takes an age, with 100 people let inside only every 25 minutes. You're given 3D glasses and urged to switch them on, although the glasses are black, the switch is black and the room is dark, so that's quite hard. Then you watch some Olympic-related promotional videos, and and see some of the latest Olympic events in 3D. And that doesn't last long enough. The action then switches to the back of the room where a cheesy salesman attempts to demonstrate the company's new smart TV set. The presentation was so forced that half the audience walked out early, and rightly so. Unless the queue's short, don't bother.
6) Energy Infraco Pavilion – The Magic of Electricity When ushered into a big screen viewing area, you'd hope for better than a film pointing out that electricity is used in the home and aren't athletes great. Out the back, you'd hope for better than a set of information screens about Energy Infraco. The only thing that slightly rescues this exhibit is the opportunity for children to jump up and down and see how many watts of energy they're creating. But much better exercise to take them to the Great British Garden opposite, to be honest.
7) Mobile Company Mobile PIN "Stand here, Sir, and we'll take your photo. Then we'll harvest your contact details, Sir, and you can play with our new phones. Finally we'll let you have a big badge with your photo on, Sir, and hope you'll wear our advert round the Park all day. You will? More fool you, Sir."
8) The Computer Manufacturer Journey Have we stepped back to 1995? A swirly astro-journey video with banal themes. A robot bloke in a red jumpsuit who steps off the screen. An upstairs chamber where you can play sort-of computer games but only if you register your details first. The whole thing's like a bad holodeck episode of Star Trek The Next Generation. Save your curiosity and stay outside.