Did you know that there are thousands of people around the world who collect Coca-Cola memorabilia? I'm often asked what has changed in the collecting community the past few decades, and the obvious answer is that eBay and Facebook have made collecting global. A quick search of Facebook reveals thousands of fans listing bottles and other items for trade or sale, and the same is true on eBay.
With this global reach, and people’s love of Coca-Cola, it is no surprise to see the hobby spread worldwide. I was fortunate this year to support the traveling Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour, where I got to meetwith several of our international collecting fan clubs. I thought I'd share some of the stories here.
The 2015 World Expo took place in Milan, Italy this year, and Coca-Cola had a fantastic pavilion that was visited by hundreds of thousands of people between May and October. We organized a pop art exhibit that focused on the 100th anniversary of the Coca-Cola bottle. In October, a large group of Italian Coca-Cola collectors were invited for a special event at the pavilion. Our Italian Coca-Cola team invited a well-known local DJ, la Pina, to host the event. We did two hours of Q&A and shared stories on collections, values of items and some of the world's most sough-after items. I was excited to meet Davide Andreani, who has more than 20,000 cans and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records! He was bitten by the collecting bug when he was 13 and scours the world for cans and bottles he does not have.
When the Coca-Cola Art Bottle Tour visited Manila, Philippines in October, I was able to attend to officially open the exhibit. As part of the opening events, we donated some materials for a silent auction to raise money for the Coca-Cola Philippine Foundation. We invited the Philippine Coca-Cola Collectors Club for a special afternoon preview of the exhibit and then to bid on the auction items. Afterwards, I met with club members to discuss the types of materials they tried to collect. They were so passionate about the brand, its advertising and commemorative bottles. One of the collectors even had a tattoo in the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle! Randy Caluag, secretary of The Philippine Coca-Cola Collectors Club, hand-painted a Coca-Cola bottle in the style of Andy Warhol on one side and me on the other. Pretty crazy, and one of the more interesting items I have ever received as a gift! The auction ended up raising more than $2,000 for the Foundation, and 12,000 people visited the exhibit, so it was a huge success.
A few weeks ago, I attended the opening of the Bottle Art Tour in Bangkok. While I was there, I was able to meet Coca-Cola fans from both Korea and Thailand. The Thai Coca-Cola Club organized their first ever collectors fair. I was excited to attend and was surprised to see that it was actually a regional fair as more than a dozen collectors flew over from China to attend! It was great to see some of the historic, locally produced advertising and the wide variety of packaging that we do not see in the U.S. The Tai Club also had a charity auction and raised over $1,500 for the Red Cross!
A group of 10 superfans from Korea were invited to the opening of the exhibit and given a sneak preview. I was able to meet with the group after their tour to answer questions about Coca-Cola and pose for some photos. Naniya, one of the superfans, has a fascinating blog where she highlights her photography and original graphics. Her art is beautiful and give a great overview of the exhibit from the eye of a visitor. She even did a caricature of me that is now my Facebook profile pic!
The visits to these countries meeting collectors and our superfans around the world has reconfirmed for me the popularity of collecting Coca-Cola is alive and growing! I also gained insights as to why people collect our brands. As one of the world's truly global companies, many of the people I spoke with collected because it made them feel like they were part of a worldwide community. As I noted, the Internet has the ability to bring people together in new and special ways, and it is very easy to friend a fellow collectors on Facebook and become part of the global community.
Ted Ryan is director of Heritage Communications at The Coca-Cola Company.