This year, Coca-Cola’s iconic contour bottle celebrates its 100th anniversary. Back in 1915, the Root Glass Company developed the bottle design after the Coca-Cola Company asked a number of manufacturers to develop a design that would make it more distinctive. Specifically, the company asked manufacturers to create a design that wasn’t just distinctive—it had to be so distinctive that it could be recognized only by touch and still recognized visually even after it shattered.
The bottle design that the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana created was based on a picture of a cocoa pod that the primary designer, Earl R. Dean, found in the Encyclopedia Britannica. He used that image to create a prototype, which the Coca-Cola Company selected as its new bottle design. By 1916, the new bottle was available to consumers.
In 1923, the design was patented with the company obtaining a second patent on the design in 1937, which enabled the company to protect its bottle design for another 14 years. It took nearly 50 more years for the Coca-Cola contour bottle with the Coca-Cola name on it to be trademarked in 1960, which gave the Coca-Cola Company protection indefinitely. It took another three more years for the bottle shape alone to be trademarked (1977).
While the bottle has evolved over the years, it still retains that instantly recognizable contour shape. Today, all of that intellectual property is worth billions of dollars to the Coca-Cola Company, and the company enforces its patent and trademark protections vigorously.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the contour bottle, Coca-Cola launched a special website and a year-long campaign that will include seven key initiatives:
- The Coca-Cola Bottle: An American Icon at 100 – an exhibit with the High Museum of Art which will feature a variety of artists’ work including paintings by Andy Warhol
- The Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour: Inspiring Pop Culture for 100 Years – a traveling art exhibition
- Television and digital films – 14 in total
- New music anthem – called “Nobody Like You”
- Global out-of-home campaign – called “Kissed By” featuring Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Ray Charles
- Book – French publishing house Assouline will publish the book called “Kiss the Past Hello”
- App – called the Story of Coca-Cola Bottle App
Coca-Cola’s bottle design is undoubtedly one of the most iconic examples of successful package design in the world. It gives Coca-Cola a great deal of brand recognition, which is a significant competitive advantage since it is so well protected as valuable intellectual property. Even if the label is printed in different languages, people still recognize the brand by the bottle’s contour shape.
Suffice it to say, the company succeeded in building a truly distinctive bottle design in 1915, and that design continues to stand the test of time.