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Visual schizophrenia, verbal multiple personality disorder

In a recent profile on the splendid Drum – source of so much more light than heat in the hinterland of marketing communications – Coke’s VP of global design talked of the need to avoid “visual schizophrenia” in the creation of its World Cup design.

I read the article with interest, and it prompted a number of instant thoughts and reactions. As Gladwell’s Blink showed us, instant thoughts – particularly valuable instant thoughts – are the result of accumulated wisdom. As his Outliers told us, expertise in a domain typically takes 10,000 hours. Extracting eureka insights with felicity requires the insightful one to have put in some hard yards. So here’s hoping (clearly not a strategy) …

1. Coke’s work is visually appealing and interesting, captures a clear Brazilianness, and thereby connects the brand to the World Cup.

2. That said, it’s cacophonous compared with where Coke is today or has been in living memory. Not quite the clang of many voices shouting, competing for attention unfiltered in a brain of dopamine dysregulation – as some psychiatrists and clinical psychologists might recognise schizophrenia. But more like multiple personality disorder.

3. Even if we accept Coke’s design honcho’s psychiatrically ill-judged metaphor, his diagnosis tells just half of the story. Visual schizophrenia (or MPD) is one part of the equation; verbal MPD is equally critical. Coke doesn’t deal in words as much as most brands; the string “Coca Cola” is the world’s second best known collection of letters. After “OK”. So pictures matter more to the syrupy giant, which makes the Brazilian clanger all the more surprising.

Musical and lyrical differences do for many bands. Lyrical and lyrical differences from campaign to campaign make a brand’s target audience confused, battered, blurred – they just don’t know what to believe any more.

My prescription is simplicity, clarity, internal and external consistency, from where coherence is born. Stripped back, evidence-based brand narrative put brands on the road to success in the mini World Cups they fight every day.

Sam Knowles
Sam Knowles is Founder & MD of Insight Agents. He helps companies, brands, and third-sector organisations find simple, true, and authentic language. This gives them the tools, permission, and confidence they need to communicate effectively. His purpose is to help organisations talk like people.

Sam has recently written a book called “Narrative by Numbers: How to Tell Powerful and Purposeful Stories with Data”. It will be published in April 2018 by Routledge.