Coca-Cola is celebrating its 100-year-old glass bottle in 2015 by expanding the global availability of the iconic package’s 10-year-old aluminum sibling.
“We’re honoring our past while looking ahead,” said Debbie Haseley, who is overseeing the global expansion of the aluminum bottle. “While our expansion efforts have been tremendous, we have even more aggressive plans over the next three years. We see significant revenue growth opportunity with this package.”
Coca-Cola, together with key suppliers and manufacturing partners, has launched aluminum bottle production in multiple locations around the world to boost capacity and meet growing consumer demand. The 8.5-oz., fully recyclable bottle – which appeals to consumers of all ages – is currently available in 45 countries.
Coke uses the eye-catching package to support both short-term promotions and sponsorship assets – from the Olympic Games, to holiday campaigns, to the Milan Expo – and longer-term brand-building efforts.
“This premium, upscale package plays a clear strategic role in our sparkling package portfolio, while also allowing us to tell our brand story in meaningful ways throughout the year and deliver a heightened Coca-Cola drinking experience,” said Yolanda White, global group director, Coca-Cola Trademark.
In 2005, and with continued R&D support, the Coca-Cola glass bottle loaned its signature curves to a modern interpretation featuring a new packaging material. The company’s global marketing and packaging teams collaborated to fuse art and science, producing a limited-edition collection of Coke and Diet Coke aluminum contour bottles for upscale nightclubs through the M5 (“magnificent five”) campaign. Five design firms from five continents created bottle graphics, which were printed on the bottles with UV-sensitive inks revealing different design motifs under a black light. The designs, each paired with a music video to build cachet with young trendsetters, rolled out one at a time over the course of a year.
In 2006, Coca-Cola France introduced Coca-Cola Blak – a mid-calorie, coffee-flavored cola – in a black-and-brown aluminum bottle. Those first few versions of the bottle featured an easy-to-open “crown” cap. But by the time it launched in the U.S. a little over a year later, Coca-Cola North America’s engineers had successfully incorporated a twist-off, re-sealable closure into the design.
This was no easy feat, according to Alejandro Santamaria, who served as U.S. technical lead on the project from 2006 to 2014.
“The aluminum contour bottle is the most difficult metal package in the world to make because of its shape,” he explains, adding straight-sided bottles are much easier to produce. “And aluminum is a very soft metal, so putting a cap on an aluminum bottle is incredibly challenging. Glass is much easier to cap – it’s rigid and hard. But when you’re putting a soft closure on a soft metal bottle at a high speed – holding the carbonation and at the same time making the bottle easy to open – it’s a delicate balancing act. Imagine having a combination safe and having to dial a number of knobs just right to unlock it… that’s what this process was like.”
From a design perspective, Coke’s North America team and agency partners Turner Duckworth used the aluminum bottle launch to anchor a streamlined visual identity system (VIS), which later won multiple Cannes Lions and other prestigious design honors.
“We wanted to simplify the look and feel of the brand and re-romance our core elements – the bold use of red and white, and the signature Coca-Cola script and ribbon,” said Frederic Kahn, Coca-Cola design director. “We saw the power of simple, clean design as a great way to re-energize the brand.”
In 2008, Coke tested the bottles in Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia with a focus on upscale hotels, restaurants and event venues. “Until that point, it had been used as an in-and-out promotional vehicle,” said Holly Kilgore, a senior marketing manager who oversaw the commercialization pilots. “Instead of taking a collectible approach, we were focused on building the trademark and contemporizing the contour bottle by using it to recruit new drinkers. It was about modernizing the Coca-Cola drinking experience.”
College students scooped up the aluminum bottles – which became instant conversation-starters – at campus sampling events. Buzz quickly began to build.
“The bottles became instant fashion accessories,” Kilgore said. “Students were taking pictures with them and posting to Facebook.”
Coke’s approach to slowly roll out the bottles in the U.S. added to their mystique. But as demand grew in the years that followed, the company expanded distribution.
Kahn attributes the innovative package’s universal appeal to the enduring relevance of its 100-year-old predecessor. “This was one of several great moments in Coke’s packaging history where we’ve rediscovered the power of the contour bottle,” he said, noting previous launches of contour 20-oz. and 2-liter PET bottles. “When we get back to what’s truly special about this brand, our consumers respond.”
White agreed. “It’s the iconic shape of the bottle we’re celebrating in 2015,” she said. “This year gives us the opportunity to tip our hat not only to the legacy of the glass contour bottle, but to the innovation it continues to inspire today.”
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