What better way to celebrate 100 years of the Coca-Cola bottle than to showcase art and pop culture artifacts inspired by the world’s most famous package? It was an idea that started small and grew into the Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour, which just might be the most powerful interpretation ever of what it means to enjoy a bottle of Coke. 

The modest plan was hatched by Coke's Heritage Communications team, stewards of Coke's art collection. “We envisioned a rather simple traveling exhibition for high traffic places like malls,” says Ted Ryan, director of heritage communications and Coke's chief archivist. “Our marketing colleagues convinced us that it needed to be something else. This was a ‘go big or go home’ opportunity.”

share a coke art

The exhibition concept evolved in purpose and mushroomed in scale. Jelena Veselenovic, director of Global Connections, describes the end result as a consumer’s encounter with Coca-Cola. “It’s a sensorial experience that leads people to discover how to enjoy the perfect Coke," she said, "setting the stage to appreciate more fully the role of Coke in culture.” 

Two tours are now underway, with the only differences being the cities visited and the specific artworks on display. Tour A is visiting six countries in Central and South America, and Tour B includes South Africa, Italy and five Pacific Rim stops. Each tour is a highly complex operation that requires precise coordination and management of countless details. A broad and diverse “team of teams” – global and local – makes it happen.

Creating a Destination

To house the exhibitions, two custom-made, climate-controlled facilities were created, one for each tour. They are shipped from one site to the next. Each requires a spacious, prominent venue with room to handle up to 3,500 guests a day, plus exterior performances and special events. In Mexico City, for example, the exhibition was held at the historic Plaza Inbursa Cuicuilco, while in Monterrey, the site was the very contemporary Cintermex Convention Center. 

Coke bottle art

Accenting the intensity of the exhibition experience, only 20 people at a time can enter. As they proceed, they experience Coca-Cola and the bottle through all five senses, starting in a dramatically lit tunnel of mist that evokes Coca-Cola’s effervescence. They run their hands over the contours of backlit bottles, hear the soft pop and smell the aroma as a bottle is opened, and then are playfully “bubblized” so each guest’s digital image appears inside a Coke bubble. Spot-on timing and coordination of effects is essential for maximum impact.

Coke bottle art

Through a door shaped like a bottle cap, guests then enter the darkened Perfect Serve Room, where the focus is on taste. Here, 20 perfectly chilled bottles of Coca-Cola await, one for each guest. The bottles rest on pedestals under a spotlight, each with an opener at hand. In this theatrical atmosphere, guests are invited to take and open a bottle to experience Coca-Cola at its happiest. A short video tells the story of the bottle’s creation and growth as an emblem of enjoyment.

The third stop is the Hall of Art, where history and art converge. Here, the bottle’s presence in pop culture is captured in original works by Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, Robert Mars, Sally Tharp, Steve Penley, Eduardo Paolozzi, Haddon Sundblom, Howard Finster, Jean Wells and other prominent artists. A commissioned sculpture recalls the direction given for the first Coke bottle – that it should be so distinctive as to be recognizable even if broken into pieces. Guests can design their own Coke bottles and pose for their own “I’ve Kissed” image as a keepsake.

Sophisticated Logistics

All of this takes tremendous logistical effort and synchronization among different functions and areas of expertise. Previous events like the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games provided helpful guidance. Yet the exhibition carries unique challenges, not the least of which is insuring and shipping millions of dollars’ worth of original art. At each stop, the facility’s climate control dynamics must be re-calibrated to fit local temperature and humidity conditions.

Coke bottle art

To cover every detail, toolkits were created for host markets, some with instructional videos. The toolkits address technical matters of design, facility build-out and security, as well as strategies for PR and social media from pre-launch to afterwards. Representatives from Coke's Global Marketing or Heritage Communications teams are on site at each stop, along with agency partners. 

coke bottle art

Local market teams are critical. They secure the venue, arrange VIP events, engage media and heighten awareness through social media and pre-launch activities. Global Design, PR and Legal have played key roles throughout the process, as has the Global Coca-Cola Brand Team. 

An amazing fact of the exhibition is the speed with which it came together. The “Go Big” decision came last September, and by February, the exhibition was opening in South Africa. However, anticipating that bottle art would be highlighted during the 100 anniversary, Ryan started three years ago to build the company’s collection by working with Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and various galleries. 

Of course the key acquisition came a century ago, with the order for a bottle that would stand apart from all others – and ultimately fascinate the whole world.