Google’s Cold Recognition of Olympic Luge
February 14, 2010 by Nate Winter
Following the death of Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday, the world mourned. The Georgian luger's fatal accident during a practice exercise occurred just hours before Friday night’s opening ceremonies, which were already expected to have the world’s attention. The loss of this athlete cast a shadow over an ordinarily joyous event, and during the opening ceremonies, the world was painfully aware of it.
And then on Saturday, this appeared:
It’s the Google homepage with a customized logo showing a luger, presumably posted in recognition of the Winter Olympics. Google's customized logos related to international holidays and milestones are quite common and generally well-received. A look at past examples of Google holiday logos shows that the occasions recognized are always celebratory. There's not a solemn one in the bunch. Because making a cutesy illustration of something tragic is distasteful. And then associating it with commercial interests is outright offensive.
So given the highly publicized death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, why would Google--one of the most visible brands on the planet-- put a luge graphic on its homepage? It boggles the mind. It’s insult to fatal injury.
Commemorating the death of this olympic athlete would’ve been perfectly acceptable, but that’s not what this graphic did. There’s nothing specific to Kumaritashvili-- no image of his face, no mention of his name. This is just a general illustration representing luge.
Even after the loss of an athlete, it’s still okay to celebrate the winter games with a related graphic. But using a graphic depiction of the sport that claimed the life of an Olympic athlete is simply inexcusable. Especially when his life was claimed the day before.
Why didn’t Google just highlight a different sport? One of the luge competitions did take place on Saturday, but plenty of other events were held that day too. Representing one of them would’ve been easy.
During the Olympics, it appears that Google’s homepage graphics will change quite frequently. The luge graphic was up for less than 24 hours. But given the traffic that Google receives, that graphic was still seen by millions of people. And given the publicity surrounding Kumaritashvili’s death, many of them made the connection. In fact, the response caused Google to replace the luge graphic with one showing snowboarding. But it should've never been posted in the first place. Someone at this multi-billion-dollar company should have foreseen a negative response and avoided the issues completely.
Rather than celebrate one of the Winter Olympics’ many popular sports, Google offered a painful reminder of the death that will probably characterize the 2010 Winter Games for years to come. This blatant oversight on a sensitive issue deals a harsh blow to Google's highly esteemed brand.