Spiky Clyde is no wallflower, but has he got staying power to help define games’ legacy?

Clyde in sunny Glasgow with designer Beth Gilmour and Olympic swimmers Rebecca Adlington and Michael Jamieson. Andrew Milligan

He may have entered your life abruptly over the past few days. With his purple mohican, jagged green hands and the sort of red, yellow and blue get-up that would trouble most prospective in-laws, Clyde the thistle is anything but a wallflower.

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games mascot was designed by 12-year-old Beth Gilmour from Cumbernauld and selected from over 4000 other applicants.

The difficulty in designing a good mascot lies in creating a character that both resonates with the event and represents the image that the host city wishes to convey to its global audience. So the prickly question facing Clyde the thistle is, how effective is this part-man, part-plant?

The use of brand mascots is widespread across retail and commerce. They are adopted as a means of enhancing the brand of events. Well designed mascots can visually communicate a complex set of values, and elicit an emotional response across a wide population. They are also capable of gaining the attention of people who may not have otherwise been interested, and they have the advantage of being manipulable spokespersons.

A basic analysis of Clyde the thistle in terms of the characteristics considered important in semiotics, which is the science of signs, reveals a number of interesting points. Clyde has a strong identification with the games and with its host city. He signifies the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games by having the logo emblazoned on his chest. Garbed in modern sports kit and trainers, he is clearly ready to partake in physical activity. He relates to the city of Glasgow by adopting the name Clyde, its famous river. He evokes the host nation by wearing a vest fashioned from the St Andrews Cross, and by taking the form of a thistle, Scotland’s national flower.

You’d be blue too, from all the abuse. PA Photos

Using a human-like thistle represents something of a risk, though. Choosing such a “not so ordinary” image could mean audiences find it unrecognisable and difficult to relate to, which would reduce its effectiveness and attractiveness. The best example of this at a mega event was Izzy, the much-derided amorphous design for the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games whose appearance changed during the event to try to increase his appeal – without much success, it must be said.

The adoption of Clyde the thistle happens to be the first time the official mascot for the Commonwealth Games has not been an animal, the trend having started with a bear called Keyano at the 1978 games in Edmonton, Canada. The last Commonwealth Games saw Shera the tiger in Delhi 2010. The most recent two occasions when the games took place in the UK saw the adoption of Kit the Kat (Manchester 2002) and Mac the Scottie dog (Edinburgh 1986).

Misha the bear, practising his friendly face. Timo Kirkkala/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

On a positive note, the decision to give Clyde the thistle a face is a strength. Clyde has big eyes, a cheeky smile and a youthful haircut, making him somewhat childlike and appealing across many cultures. Historically, the most famous mega event mascots all have faces, like Misha the bear from the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games.

The use of a face allows a mascot to transfer emotion easily and engage quickly with an audience, an aspect thought to be pivotal for successful brand marketing, This was a point that was lost on the designers of Wenlock and Mandeville, the mascots for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Clyde also looks straight at the viewer, representing an openness to engage and build relationships with others. This gaze is largely horizontal also confirms an equality of power and status.

Down with faceless mascots: London Olympics’ Wenlock and Mandeville. Steve Parsons

So overall, from the perspective of those of us who deal in semiotics – the science of signs – Clyde the thistle appears largely to be an effective mascot.

Overall, from a semiotic perspective, Clyde the Thistle appears to be a largely effective mascot – albeit with reservations about using a humanised plant and not the more traditional animal designs used in previous Commonwealth Games.

Since many mascots are pitched towards children, it will be interesting to see in the months to come whether our children and grandchildren easily recognise Clyde the thistle (Scottish schoolchildren will have the advantage that he has been heavily used in schools in the run-up to the games). If we buy the children’s toy, will they relate to the human-like thistle enough to want to play with it? Analysis might be useful, but ultimately it is the public who will decide how effective the different aspects of the games have been, and shape their legacy for years to come.

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