With 100 days to go until the Grand Final of this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm, we take a look behind the scenes at how this year's event slogan, 'Come Together', and artwork came about.
The first time the Eurovision Song Contest was ‘accompanied’ by a slogan was, at least in the modern age, in 2002, when the production team of the Estonian host broadcaster felt they needed something that could connect all the different elements of the show. In large television productions such as the Eurovision Song Contest, producers often work in sub-teams, each focusing on a particular element of the show; the opening act, the postcard films, the interval act or the set design. To make sure all these elements would easily combine, the Estonians came up with a concept: A Modern Fairytale. It wasn’t only a great tagline for the show, it can also be seen as a metaphor for the country itself. The theme slogan became Estonia’s Eurovision legacy, as from that moment on, the importance of a theme slogan became part of the contest’s DNA.
In 2004, Ukraine secured its first Eurovision Song Contest victory, just one year after participating for the first time. What many saw as a lucky shot — one that some countries are still desperately waiting for — was in fact the result of a well-planned strategy to increase Ukraine’s visibility in Europe and the world. A renowned Kyiv-based marketing company supported broadcaster NTU to develop its winning strategy. What few could foresee was that just months before the next contest would take place in Kyiv, the country went through what became known as the Orange Revolution. The unstable situation, which lasted well into the winter of 2005, made the EBU seriously consider alternative locations. Despite these challenges, NTU and the authorities in Ukraine organised the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest in record time. According to the organisers, the chosen theme for 2005 — Awakening — reflected the country’s new dawn and positive outlook for the future. A decade since Awakening, Ukraine now has new challenges, showing that these slogans reflect events at specific points in time.
More recent slogans have also reflected place and time. Light Your Fire (2012) was a reference to Azerbaijan’s own name, which means land of fire, while We Are One (2013) reflected the aim to better understand what unites us rather than what divides us. #JoinUs (2014) was Denmark’s call to action, especially to a young generation who made Twitter their digital living room, in which no opinion is left unheard. Even Building Bridges (2015) was appropriate in time and place, following Conchita’s victory, who won the Eurovision Song Contest not only with an amazing song and performance, but also with a message about tolerance.
Today Europe faces many challenges. Hundreds of thousands have fled circumstances so violent that they were willing to risk their lives to come to Europe. The sudden influx of refugees is putting Europe to the test — politically, economically and of course, socially. Although Europe’s challenge is of an entirely different magnitude, it also raised a challenge for Eurovision Song Contest organisers: What do you say when you throw Europe’s biggest party, while the togetherness you celebrate is being put to the test? How do you bring some 200 million people together for a much-needed positive experience and at the same time acknowledge there is an elephant in the room? In September 2015, it became clear that host broadcaster SVT, the EBU and the Reference Group (the contest’s governing body on behalf of the participating broadcasters) were in agreement that the challenges Europe faces today cannot and should not be ignored when celebrating the biggest entertainment event of the year.
The Eurovision Song Contest has dealt with sensitive situations before, sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly. In 1994, the jury spokesperson of war-torn Bosnia & Herzegovina was greeted with a long spontaneous applause from the audience, as if they were saying: “We hear you!” In 2012, the EBU organised a conference on media freedom in Azerbaijan, just weeks ahead of the 57th Eurovision Song Contest in the country’s capital. Ahead of the 2014, the song contest team made clear what it stood for in a letter addressing concerns from the fan community about intolerance towards the LGBT community. More often, the difficult issues of the day are put in the limelight by the contestants themselves; from protesting against atomic weapons (Nuku Pommiin, Finland 1982) to advocating for European unity (Insieme 1992, Italy 1990). The line between addressing a socially relevant topic and taking a political stance has sometimes been blurred, and keeping the Eurovision Song Contest free from politics is non-negotiable for its organisers.
To insiders, it was obvious that a slogan like We Are One, which had served its purpose in 2013, could be considered inappropriate in the current climate. We may have much in common regardless of where we live in Europe, but much of the public debate today is about what divides us. #JoinUs was heartwarming in 2014, but the call to action is outright misplaced in times where countries close their borders and build walls. It was only at the end 2015 that SVT found a theme slogan that tells what the Eurovision Song Contest stands for, sends out a positive message whilst acknowledging the challenges Europe faces, without being political. The theme slogan also has a crucial purpose to serve; to provide a hook for all the different elements of the contest. Come Together does exactly that. In her opening speech at the Semi-Final Allocation Draw, Hanna Stjärne, CEO of Swedish broadcaster SVT, reflected upon what the Eurovision Song Contest is about: “To highlight the things that unite us, to highlight the things that make us human. (…) Europe needs common joy, Europe needs common hope, Europe needs to come together.”
The decision to go with Come Together was not only the end of a challenging process, but also the beginning of a new one. After creative pitches in late 2015, SVT chose to work with advertising agency INGO, part of the global Ogilvy and Grey networks. In record time, they had to create a visual language that not only fits with the theme slogan, but should also meet dozens of practical requirements; it should look good on dozens of print applications, but also on the television screen. It should look good when projected onto a building, when printed on an accreditation badge and online. To make sure designers can create new applications, often under the pressure of time, the Eurovision Song Contest artwork often consists of a set of fixed elements and strict application rules, a so-called identity system. The final artwork, with an energetic dandelion as centrepiece, was delivered before the holidays, just in time to prepare for launch on the 25th of January, during the Semi-Final Allocation Draw.
The first application of a design, without context, may come across as simplistic to the spectator. The first time the owner of Nike was presented with the famous swoosh-logo, his response was: “I don’t love it, but I think it will grow on me”. And while the swoosh, created in 1971, was eventually chosen out of many seemingly unrelated drafts, the best designers often don’t even propose options anymore these days. When done well, they come up with one concept that perfectly fits with the creative brief they have been given. There is no set formula to get from a brief to one proposal — that’s where creativity kicks in, a process that most agencies keep tightly under wraps.
Barely a month after the artwork for the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest was completed, the theme slogan was introduced. A giant banner in Stockholm’s city hall, the set design for the draw and accreditation badges, visuals for the website and the different social media platforms, all bear the theme artwork of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. As you read this story, t-shirts, mugs and other merchandise featuring the energetic dandelion are being produced in factories around the world. Meanwhile, the TV production team is working on the finer details of what the opening and interval acts will look like, the content of the 43 postcards, as well as many more elements that will make up the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Not an easy task, but in the end it will, as always, come together.
Sietse Bakker (Eurovision Song Contest Event Supervisor) and Paul Jordan (ESC Online & Communications Manager) contributed to this story.