A symbol of hope

The branding for this year’s Fifa World Cup had to satisfy not only the demands of the governing body, but the cultural and sporting aspirations of both the host nation and the continent of Africa itself. Lynda Relph-Knight tells the story behind its development

The process                      

The 2010 Fifa World Cup branding by Johannesburg consultancy Switch was born of a pitch organised by football’s governing body. A longlist of some 30 members of Think – the South African Design Council – was whittled down, after a credentials presentation, to a handful of consultancies including Black, The Brand Union, Grid and HKLM as well as Switch.

Fifa has come under a lot of criticism locally for the restrictions it placed on designers, insisting its own logo takes up 40 per cent of the design and is placed in the bottom right-hand corner, and its high-handed attitude to even the smallest producer using 2010 in the context of football. But it was an exemplary client in the way it ran the pitch, says Veejay Archary of shortlisted Johannesburg consultancy Black. The process that started some five years ago effectively kicked off the successful anti-free pitching movement in South Africa.

Each of the consultancies on the shortlist was paid to submit five designs, incorporating the Fifa logo and looking at Africa as a whole, not just South Africa. ‘It had to work from Cairo to Cape Town,’ says Switch founder Gaby de Abreu. The design also had to work at all sizes, in black and white or colour, and be capable of realisation in print, embroidery and a host of other media, and for Fifa communications as well as within sponsors’ promotions.

The final submissions were assessed by a panel including Ravi Naidoo, celebrated founder of Design Indaba and Interactive Africa, and former South African Justice Albie Sachs, who played a seminal role in the commissioning of the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, among other cultural innovators.

Archary maintains, though, that the project was ‘not based on creativity, but on legal protection’ – in other words, what Fifa could claim as its own.

The concept

According to de Abreu, the big challenge was the relatively small space left to be expressive and portray celebration and African-ness once the Fifa logo had been incorporated. But as it roughly followed the shape of the African continent, he took this as his cue. ‘Africa is the one continent, apart from South America, that you recognise instantly by its shape,’ he says.

The image of the footballer is inspired by traditional rock painting and shown executing a difficult bicycle kick to represent the ‘flair’ that is the essence of African football, de Abreu says, with the ball appearing as the African sun. The typeface created for the project is ‘commercial, legible, but still African’. ‘It looks as though it is chiseled into rock,’ he maintains.

It had a story because of my first-hand knowledge of and passion [for football and South Africa]

Gaby de Abreu, Switch

To emphasise South Africa, de Abreu chose the nation’s flag, used in an abstract way to follow the contours of the continent. The footballer kicking the ball upwards from the bottom of the flag suggests celebration emanating across Africa from the south, he says.

He admits reaction to his design has been mixed, with a 50/50 split for and against within the local design community. But he accepted the constraints placed by Fifa on the design. ‘Fifa designers in Zurich are strict because they have to combat pirates,’ he says.

Switch has also taken the branding through to Fifa merchandising and clothing such as T-shirts. It also won the job to create a poster that, again, uses the African continent and South African colours, with a human face raised optimistically towards the football-cum-sun. Johannesburg ad agency Joe Public, meanwhile, created the website.

De Abreu hopes the story the branding tells, and the World Cup experience generally, will dispel some of the negative perceptions people have of South Africa and the African continent, in the same way the 2006 World Cup helped to unite its German host nation.

For him personally, it brings together his twin dreams of branding a world event and being a professional footballer. ‘It had a story because of my first-hand knowledge of and passion [for football and South Africa],’ he says.

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