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Designing the World Cup: Coke Taps Vuvuzelas and K'naan for Inspiration

The FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour winds its way through South Africa on its way to the tournament's opening match in three weeks, and marketers have begun ramping up their own World Cup promotions. From soda to athletic gear to high fashion, the World Cup is providing fodder for merchandise design, proving that sports is the world's language — as long as you're talking commerce. Even the soccer clueless, who can’t distinguish between Ronaldo and Drogba, will be able to get a hit of that African rhythm, as close as the mall or the grocery store.

In the next few days, we'll take a look at how a few companies have tackled World Cup design bonanza.

Coca Cola, the official beverage sponsor of the games, began its massive roll-out of a world wide campaign months ago. With a visual identity created by the design firm Attik, the company's signage will be distinctive and ubiquitous. "The FIFA World Cup games and trophy tour is the largest single event Coke has ever undertaken," says Petro Kacur, a senior marketing executive with the company. The tour traveled 151,217 kilometers, over 225 days,  churning across five continents and being seen by at least half a million people.

"The Trophy Tour alone began in Egypt on Sept. 24 and traveled through 50 nations in Africa, before heading to India in January, another 33 countries in East Asia, and the U.S. in May," he says.

The Somali-born Afropop artist K’nann created the music anthem that will accompany Coke’s World Cup spots. It will be released as a single, and was the musical accompaniment to the trophy tour.

Attik’s visual identity campaign, a boldly colored montage of African symbols, began with a tour of South Africa to get all the elements right.

"The symbols are unique: the vuvuzelas (the popular long, trumpet-like instruments), the peace symbols, and the mouths representing singing," says James Sommerville, co-founder and group creative director of Attik.

"While the game is on the field, there’s an enormous amount of patter in the stands," he says. "The atmosphere is loud, vibrant. Most people aren’t even watching the game, they’re just having fun." The visual identity language was created to capture of the joy of every fan’s "inner African.’"

Other elements include hands lifting up a bottle the way the captain of a winning team would lift the World Cup trophy, and a sense that the whole image was sort of thrown together — not too polished or finely done — to reflect Africans’ resourceful way of cobbling together disparate elements to make necessities.

In addition, the map of Africa which accompanies the exploding burst of football elements, can be tailored to each participating nations’ colors —- an over-arching identity that allows for a national twist, via Coke’s own Design Machine, a software program that allows for local tweaking of a global program. 

"Design at Coke falls within an engineered framework," says Somerville. "Prior to working with Coca Cola, I’d never seen this sort of thing to this degree. Either you’d have a brand language that was visually powerful, but which every country turned into a mess, or one that was visually uninspiring and one-size-fits-all. What Coke has managed to achieve is a foot in both camps."