Like the rest of the world, I'm very impressed by Usain Bolt. But not just for being the fastest man on the planet. I'm impressed because he has single-handedly turned himself into a perfect brand. A brand that is simple, clear, creative, original and incredibly effective.
With a surname like Bolt, the man really should be a world record-holding sprinter. The writing's on the wall. Wild horses bolt with sudden and tremendous power, and that's exactly how Usain runs. He also ensures that the atmosphere in whichever stadium he's in is electric. He is probably the most relaxed athlete I've ever seen, playing up to the camera, teasing officials (look at the build-up before the Olympic 200m final) and making all sorts of gestures to the camera; the viewers are his friends. I wouldn't be surprised if his coach (if he even has one) has tried to get him to take it all a bit more seriously. But hey, he's Usain Bolt, the fastest human that's ever lived, and he can pretty much do what he wants as long as he wins...which, by and large, he does.
And it's when he wins that the brand message all comes together. During the Olympics, he never struck the lightning bolt pose before any race. We wait for it - and he makes us wait deliberately. He waits till the cameras are all on him, all the photographers have gathered round, and then he slowly unfurls his arms, points skywards, and strikes his famous lightning bolt pose.
It's brilliant - and, I believe, selfcreated. It works on every possible level:
- it depicts his name
- there's something classical and Roman god-like about it
- he's pointing towards the heavens as if the origin of his speed is other-worldly
- it's reminiscent of a Superman pose (the pointed finger replacing the upward-thrusting fist)
- it's uncomplicated and instantly memorable
- boys in playgrounds (and men in pubs) copy it
- nobody will ever make that pose again without thinking of Usain Bolt
Others have tried to follow his lead. Fellow Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake, known as The Beast, has adopted a signature pose which is a sort of body-popping claw-clawing motion. In reality, he looks more like he's just eaten something a bit spicy and then can't find his favourite pants - and is really quite annoyed about it. Then the poor South African Anaso Jobodwana in lane eight of the 200m final gave a sort of weak '"arrow flying through the air" gesture. But it was so half-hearted that the arrow in question would have probably got lodged in the grass on the way to the target. Usain Bolt's lightning bolt pose is, quite simply, perfect - and perfectly executed.
Richard Branson had a stroke of genius when he employed Bolt for his latest series of Virgin Media advertising campaigns, especially since they focus on the doubling of the broadband speeds. You've got to love the fake blond goatee beard and the "I, Richard Branson..." in the thick Jamaican accent, haven't you? But what better advert for speed than Usain Bolt? How can you NOT buy into that?
Cleverly, if you go online to the Virgin Media broadband website, they also got Bolt to indicate on a 12-month "clock" when Virgin would change its broadband speeds depending on the region, using his famous pose and waggling his finger demonstratively at the relevant month. He also does that when indicating the web address on the TV advert.
Usain Bolt may have some way to go before he reaches the dizzying Olympic medal record of Michael Phelps - the greatest Olympian who's ever lived. But when you're that fast, that popular, that brand savvy, and that likeable, you can be sure he's going to strike gold for many more years to come - Olympic or not.
Ashley Morrison is a copywriter, blogger and editor.